San Joaquin bracing for high snowmelt water flows

Near Vernalis in San Joaquin County, the San Joaquin River is fed from the north by the high-flowing Stanislaus River and from the south where the Tuolumne River dumps into it. Upstream dams are spilling water to make sure there is enough space for the melting snowpack above.

"We see all the water from the north and the south kind of pool here before it goes out into the Delta and into the Bay," said Tiffany Heyer, director of San Joaquin County's Office of Emergency Services. 

On the San Joaquin River near Vernalis, the water is already very high and with all the unmelted snow still up in the mountains, it will only get deeper, causing concern for people down in the lowlands. 

"Since January, we've kind of been in this heightened situation in San Joaquin County. We start seeing our rivers much higher than we have in the last several years," said Heyer.

During the rains, the county did issue some evacuation orders along some levees, restricted the use of some waterways and is laser focus on the county's many levees. 


Once-drained Tulare Lake growing due to snowmelt, threat of flooding a concern

Several communities across California are preparing for trouble as the record Sierra snow starts to melt. The concern is greatest for Tulare Lake, a natural lake that was drained to make way for farming. That lake has reappeared and now threatens entire towns.

"Working with our irrigation districts; they are out doing, in some areas, 24/7 patrols of their levee system. They are out there monitoring, fixing things as they come upon, monitoring things, so they don't get any worse," said Heyer.

 The county is coordinating with dam operators, state and Federal water officials as well as regional first responders such as the Lathrop Manteca Fire District right along the San Joaquin. 

"We, like our neighbors, are active participants in that mutual aid system and can certainly leverage that which is why planning and coordination can be so important to be ahead of any potential issues," said Chief David Bramell of the Lathrop Manteca Fire District.

Even through the drought, improvements in flood control have been forthcoming. 

"There's been millions of dollars of improvements to infrastructure in these areas, and we're not anticipating major issues here currently," said Bramell.

For this often-flooded region, it is a game of watching and waiting. 

"We have eyes on it. We know what's happening. We can contact those people that we need to," said Heyer.

The key to it all: how well the levees can withstand the speed, pressure and erosive actions of all that water.