The OC prepares for El Niño.


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1. Register for AlertOC.

Wednesday the Orange Juice Blog took another field trip, this time at the invitation of the County itself, in the person of Communications Manager Jean Pasco.  The County was keen for this blog, along with various TV and radio stations, to see how the preparations are proceeding for the coming El Niño season, which is expected to be the most intense since 1950.

So up we all went to the Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center, which is situated on an eminence usually forbidden to us civilians, and the view from whence is spectacular.

Our County, from the vantage point of Loma Ridge [click for larger view.] This winter it's gonna rain on criminal Newport billionaires and Santa Ana gangbangers alike. But on the homeless especially.

Our County, from the vantage point of Loma Ridge [click for larger view.] This winter the rain will fall on criminal Newport billionaires and Santa Ana gangbangers alike. But mostly on the homeless.

El Niño, as the OC Fire Authority puts it in their valuable, printable, 2-page PDF,

“is a cyclical warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean at the Equator… Since we are in an El Niño year, forecasters are predicting heavy rains in our area for the winter and spring months. In particular, OC residents should be prepared for flooding, and also for flash flooding that can occur suddenly due to heavy rainfall in a short period of time.”

Pier PXX 9/5/97 LAAs a very good Register article from last September reminds us, 1982-3’s El Niño killed 36 people and caused $1.2 billion in property damages, including the demolition of the Huntington Beach Pier (Reg pic to the right, click for larger image.)  And 2015-16 should make THAT season look like a piker. 

The folks whose houses get trashed by mudslides and whatnot tend to have some means and  live in the hills, canyons, and places like Laguna Beach;  sandbags are being applied like mad in those places by residents and public workers.

The folks who DIE are the poor people, particularly the homeless, who tend year-round to live under bridges and most unadvisedly in the usually-dry riverbeds.  A flash flood can unexpectedly fill the Santa Ana River with a quickly-rushing deluge, and as our red-headed Sheriff Sandra Hutchens reminded us Wednesday, just six inches of rapidly moving water can knock you off your feet and drag you away.

Celebrated Reg photo of Mike Crossley kayaking through COSTA MESA after a 1997 storm.

Celebrated Reg photo of Mike Crossley kayaking through COSTA MESA after a 1997 storm.

When questioned about preparations for the homeless, Supervisor Todd Spitzer (the event’s emcee) deferred to his colleague Supervisor Andrew Do, who responded in a familiar-sounding way that the County’s SSA is “partnering” and “negotiating” with non-profits to get emergency housing for this winter;  he’s also made a trip to Washington DC in an attempt to get more funds for this.  Observers of the homeless crisis in this County have been generally unimpressed with the work of these nonprofits thus far. 

Mr Spitzer’s planned Kraemer St shelter, apart from being only 200 beds, will not be ready for a couple years so is obviously no help for this winter;  this blog’s suggested modular units on Anaheim’s Karcher property – which was supposedly purchased for the purpose of sheltering homeless – COULD have been ready this winter.  And the recent fire-code-enforced capacity reduction at Fullerton’s Armory from 200 to 138 also inspires consternation. 

When I had my usual Sunday breakfast with my Fullerton homeless friends the other day, all the talk was of the coming storms and avoiding the riverbed unless you’re suicidal.  And how hard it is to get into the Armory lately.

2.  Register for AlertOC.

One thing all Wednesday’s speakers emphasized repeatedly (as shall I, here), was to register for AlertOC, “a mass notification system designed to keep Orange County residents and businesses informed of emergencies and certain community events.”  There, I just did it myself, it took only a couple minutes.  Now I’ll get a text message as soon as our county’s weather watchdogs have reason to expect any sort of extreme and dangerous weather event!

The OCFA’s website includes further sage advice in the case you find yourself in a flood, flash or otherwise:

  • If on foot, do not attempt to walk through floodwaters.  Go directly to higher ground.  Six inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off your feet.
  • Keep children and pets away from floodwaters, storm drains, and sewers.
  • Never drive into a flooded area.  Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of water.
  • If your car stalls and water is rapidly rising around you, immediately get out and move to higher ground.
  • Stay informed of weather predictions and road closures.  Listen to area radio or television stations, check out www.weather.gov and www.ocstormcenter.com.  And Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.  But you’re going to be okay because you already registered for AlertOC, right?

Help the Department of Public Works Find A Uniform!

Supervisor Spitzer gave a very kind introduction to Orange County’s Department of Public Works, lauding them as an underappreciated agency who is always working hard before emergencies, always the first on the scene, and always the last to leave, BUT fail Rodney Dangerfield-like to get enough respect, “probably because they don’t wear uniforms.”  This got me thinking, maybe we could help that vital and overlooked agency with this problem.  What do you think would suit them best from the uniforms below, or do you have another idea?

uniforms numbered

[poll id=”317″]

Still, uniformed or no, our Department of Public Works has been working their butts off preparing for the coming El Niño.  Fiscally conscious as well, and represented Wednesday by their overlord County COO Mark Denny, they have requested no additional funds for the looming emergency, but instead have “shifted their resources” to flooding preparations like sediment removal, building of temporary facilities, and the depositing of the ever-popular sandbags and haybales.  “Shifted resources from what?” I asked Denny, who responded, “from regular maintenance, like nuisance trash.”  Because a hard, hard rain is gonna fall…

3. Register for AlertOC.

And check out our Emergency Operations Center!

The presentation we attended was inside the “Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center,” which is only activated, an average of five times a year, when a “complex emergency response” is called for.  Several things could trigger a “complex emergency response,” to wit:

  • Two or more OC cities declaring a state of emergency;
  • Six inches of rain pummeling us in 24 hours or less;
  • Massive evacuation(s) needed;
  • Something about burn areas and debris flow.

The last time this operations center was activated was last September, when there was a tsunami advisory.  This winter it is expected to be very busy.  Check it out:

On Wednesday, the Emergency Operations Center was crawling with TV journalists, not with specialists bent on saving your lives and property as it will be this winter.

On Wednesday, the Emergency Operations Center was crawling with TV journalists, not with specialists bent on saving your lives and property as it will be this winter.

There are thirty or forty desks in this center, with thirty or forty chairs draped with thirty or forty jackets for the thirty of forty specialists who will be needed. These desks are evidently intended for

There are thirty or forty chairs in this center, each draped with thirty or forty jackets for the thirty of forty specialists who will camp out in this room when they’re needed. This particular table is evidently intended for the Demobilization Unit Leader and the Advanced Planning Unit Leader.  I hope they get along well and don’t need to be separated.

The mighty satellite tower providing communications to the Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center.

The mighty satellite tower providing communications to the Loma Ridge Emergency Operations Center.

While I running around Loma Ridge sneaking pictures of our county, a wildfire was raging a few miles away near the corner of Santiago Canyon Road and Williams Canyon. I was able to overhear OCFA assistant chief Mike Schraeder bark out radio orders for extinguishing the blaze.

While I was running around Loma Ridge sneaking pictures of our county, a wildfire was raging a few miles away near the corner of Santiago Canyon Road and Williams Canyon. I was able to overhear OCFA assistant chief Mike Schraeder bark out radio orders for extinguishing the blaze.  (Click for better view!)

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The caring and humane folks of OCFA and Public Works know that we care about our pets almost as much as our children, and gave us tips for keeping them safe in inclement weather.  Unmentioned was the effect of severe precipitation on wildlife, such as the conejos of which 1940’s Mexican radio singer-songwriter Francisco “Cri-Cri” Gavilondo Soler sang in his very empathetic “Llueve” :

4.  Register for AlertOC.

And, how about saving some of this water for when we’re thirsty again?

Not many folks were asking questions, so I asked Spitzer about the county’s efforts to capture as much of the expected deluge and save it to help us out during what’s expected to be our continuing drought.  Todd discoursed on our Groundwater Replenishment System, our rechargeable basin, our Santa Ana Aquifer – all of which I already knew about – and all the money the Supervisors have spent beefing up several dams – Prado (near Corona), Seven Oaks Dam, and a Diamond Valley Dam built ten years ago.

What I hadn’t read at the time was this September Register article by Aaron Orlowski, which really gets across the contrasting institutional urges between the disaster fighters who want to get all the flood waters out to sea as quickly as possible, versus those who want to conserve this godsend of precipitation because we need it.  As Aaron wrote almost three months ago,

…the clock is ticking for the Orange County Water District – which manages north and central Orange County’s groundwater basin – to double the amount of floodwater it can hold behind Prado Dam near the border of Orange and Riverside counties.

Prado Dam, in Chino Hills near Corona, with its famed bicentennial mural, is gonna grab a LOT of this El Nino water. Thanks OCWD and Army Corps! Click for larger view.

Prado Dam, in Chino Hills near Corona, with its famed bicentennial mural, is gonna grab a LOT of this El Nino water. Thanks OCWD and Army Corps! Click for larger view.

Right now, the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manages Prado Dam, allows OCWD to store 10,000 acre-feet of water in the wetlands behind the dam during storms. The water can then be gradually released and diverted downstream to recharge basins. From there, it slowly percolates into the ground, recharging groundwater.

But if OCWD could store water just 7 feet higher behind the dam, it could double storage capacity to 20,000 acre-feet, vastly increasing the amount of water it could release into spreading basins.

OCWD and the Army Corps are just a couple of signatures away from an interim agreement to store that additional water for the winter. A study needed for a final agreement is about two years away from completion.

Well, today I was able to get a hold of OCWD General Manager John Kennedy, who confirms that (even though it’s not 100% official yet) Army Corps WILL be letting us store TWICE as much water in the Prado Dam as we have been able to.  OCWD just has to do a few little things in return – spend a little money doing some monitoring and studies, for example.  So you heard that here first.  One more little reason we’re not desperate for Poseidon’s overpriced, environmentally hurtful services.

And on that note, Pete and the boys have something they want to say…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.