Report: County shirks looming risk of floods

With low-lying tidal zones protected by levees in the east and dams built on volatile fault lines to the west, San Mateo County has been described as an “act-of-god theme park,” by one local official.

“This is San Mateo County — everything is at risk,” said Lt. John Quinlan, of the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security.

That risk was outlined on Thursday in a report from the San Mateo County civil grand jury, which determined that while Emergency Services has a plan for notifying residents, the emergency action plans for the dams and levees in the county are woefully inadequate.

Fifteen health care facilities, 27 schools, 109 city- or county-owned critical facilities and 76 bridges or interchanges lie in county areas at risk for inundation in the event of a dam failure.

In addition, the grand jury report estimates that tens of thousands of lives could be lost should the area’s levees — which hold back creek waters and the San Francisco Bay in some areas — fail catastrophically.

“A lot of our levees were built to standards 70 years ago, but now with global warming, sea levels are rising,” Quinlan said. “We have to look at if our levees are high enough now.”

Of the 19 dams in the county, none has emergency action plans that outline what a dam owner or operator must do in the event of a failure or who to call to notify residents of pending inundation.

According to Aspet Ordoubigian, area engineer for the California Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams, at least five local dams are considered “high-hazard,” and require action plans.

“It doesn’t mean the dams have any specific issues, but it means that if something were to happen, the hazards would be high,” he said.

To shore up the county’s emergency plans, the grand jury is calling for the Board of Supervisors and each city council to require any dams or levees under their control to submit emergency action plans, including three contact numbers for emergency services, recent inspection reports and other actions.

“OES has been working on the dams, but there needs to be a concerted, organized, strategic planning process to bring all the jurisdictions into sync, and we will be moving forward with it,” Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

High-hazard dams

Criteria for high-hazard dams include potential for loss of life or property, age and size of the dam, and other seismic conditions.

» Lower Crystal Springs

» Pilarcitos

» San Andreas

» Searsville

» Crocker

» Spenser Lake

» Notre Dame

» Bear Gulch

– Source: Army Corps of Engineers

jgoldman@examiner.com


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