Some of the Central Valley’s most prominent political figures were given a bird’s eye view of Merced County on Friday afternoon to see firsthand the overwhelming effects recent storms have had on the area.
Congressman Jim Costa, Senator Anthony Cannella, Assemblyman Adam Gray and Merced County District 4 Supervisor Lloyd Pareira were escorted by Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke via helicopter over the six cities affected by recent severe winter storms.
“In California, it’s either feast or famine. We either don’t have enough rain, or we have too much,” said Costa. “Currently, we’ve got more than we can handle so I want to do everything I can to work with the sheriff in the short term for the emergency procedures.”
Costa added that following the tour of the affected county areas, a decision will be made about whether or not the county is in need of state or federal assistance. The surplus of rain has caused flooding, erosion, debris flow and damages to roads throughout the county, prompting the county’s Office of Emergency Services to declare a state of emergency. The OES is currently at a Level 2 activation, said OES Deputy Director Jeremy Rahn, with the highest level of activation being a Level 3.
“With the years of drought and not seeing any rainfall for as long as it’s been, with these increased storms and atmospheric river…it’s really impacting the area because the ground is so saturated,” said Rahn.
The west side of Merced County has seen tremendous flooding potential, said Warnke, due in part to the confluence of the Merced and San Joaquin rivers. There have not been substantial damages to any residences, said Rahn, but infrastructure damage from previous storms in the area has been exacerbated by the recent downpour. Some areas in Delhi and Merced have been evacuated due to rising river levels, but the evacuations are just precautionary measures as the OES continues to monitor areas at risk of flooding. Rising water levels have also threatened some homes in Hilmar.
“We need to be prepared,” said Warnke. “We’re wanting to make sure we’ve got everything in line. We don’t want to be playing catch up should this go sideways.”
In addition to keeping an eye on local rivers, the OES has also turned their attention eastward to rainfall in the Mariposa foothills. For the next 48 hours, workers will continue to monitor the Merced River Watershed and surrounding tributaries.
Should more evacuations occur, Warnke assured that the Sheriff’s Department is prepared to help county residents with whatever assistance they may need.
“We have a stellar dive team, we’ve got water rescue craft, we’ve got the helicopter should land vehicles not be available,” said Warnke. “We’re doing everything we can to be prepared to make sure that if we do have somebody who needs help, we’re going to be there to make sure that they get it.”
Merced County residents can see a list of sandbag pickup locations as well as emergency preparedness checklists at https://www.co.merced.ca.us/.