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Environmentalist Calling for Full Analysis of Flood Control Project

David Keller says flood terracing in North Petaluma will increase the risk of downstream flooding, especially to First Street and Payran

David Keller, president of the Petaluma River Council and a longtime environmental activist, is pushing the city to conduct a more in-depth analysis of a flood control project in North Petaluma that he says will increase the risk of flooding to downtown while reducing it upstream.

The city is expected to begin work on Denman Reach portion of the Petaluma River, roughly at Stony Point and Denman Road, next year after receiving a $1 million grant this month. The area is prone to flooding, so the project will build a flood terrace, a sort of pocket that will increase the river’s capacity to hold storm water.

But Keller believes that the flood control project is an attempt to “green light” development by reducing the area designated as floodplain. (Currently the area around Denman Reach is a natural water storage area preserved from development by local ordinances.)

He quotes a 2005 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that shows that additional runoff in the river will increase the frequency and depth of flooding in other areas of the river, such as First and B streets and Payran, the latter badly damaged by flooding in previous years.

“I think the city’s calculation is grossly understated,” Keller says. “They don’t talk about the duration of the flood, flows and erosion capabilities…If we want to increase the risk of flooding to one area at an expense of another, fine, but these are public policy decisions that have to be decided by an elected body in view of the public.”

Pamela Tuft, Special Project Manager at the city’s Water and Conservation Resources Department says the flood control project has been vetted by experts has “absolutely no impacts on downstream flooding.”

“With this project, we can reduce the flood elevation in that area (Denman Reach). including to the homes that do get flooded in that neighborhood by .7 of a foot, so I think it’s a significant improvement by just doing terracing,” Tuft says.” We studied it thoroughly and feel that we can go ahead with the improvements.”

Check out Keller’s letter on the right.

Ptown February 29, 2012 at 10:10 PM
The specialist is Pamela, i'd listen to her. This is being done to streamline development? Huh, talk about paranoia.
Questions February 29, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Here's something for Patch to look into: Who else is on the so-called "Petaluma River Council?" You only hear of this organization in David Keller's bio. If it's a council, it must have other members, right? Who are they? Where do they meet? What is its mission statement? Do they have 501c(3) status and if so, a board of directors? Financial statements?
David Keller March 01, 2012 at 12:13 AM
The city seems willing to transfer risks of flooding from properties upstream to properties, residents and businesses downstream. Please read the actual City report and the PRC letter before jumping to nefarious conclusions. The PRC letter states: "The MND’s Attachment 1, “Cross Section Terracing Edits” includes a series of maps showing Flood Boundary Comparisons with the Project at ... 100-year flood events. Sheet 3 of 3, “City of Petaluma Denman Terracing 100-year Flood Boundary Comparison” clearly shows, in yellow coloring, “Floodplain Area Added with Terracing”. Included in this newly impacted areas are several locations downtown, along 1st Street and riverfront parcels., including both city streets and developed parcels. The MND completely fails to address these potentially serious and significant impacts. There is absolutely no discussion of these impacts at all, in clear violation of CEQA mandates." This is exactly what the Corps of Engineers have warned against. Yet the City is so far unwilling to notify downstream property owners of how much deeper, longer, and more frequently this flooding will occur. Given our long history of expensive flood damages, this is entirely irresponsible. In addition, it violates the law. -- The Petaluma River Council, founded in 1991, was formed to protect, restore and enjoy our great Petaluma River, marsh and watershed. It is an unincorporated, community association, and a project of the OWL Foundation.
Chad M. March 01, 2012 at 12:55 AM
I did a google search for "Petaluma River Council" and all I found was a bunch of Petaluma Patch articles. Does PRC have a website? I found the OWL Foundation website but it had no mention of PRC. How would one find more information about this council? Anyone can form a community association and give themselves any title they see fit.
David Keller March 01, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Dear Chad - You still, apparently, haven't read the Project's Initial Study and proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration, nor looked at the maps showing additional flooding downtown. Check it out, and I hope you don't own property or a business or residence downtown in the flood plain that will be increased as a result of the Project. It's the maps produced by the City's consultants, not by anyone else. But the maps do show increased flooding downtown and reduced flood protection as earlier predicted by the USA Corps of Engineers, Questa Engineering and FEMA themselves. Why the city staff is denying their own work product remains an important mystery. Do you live in one of these flood plain areas?
Chad M. March 01, 2012 at 04:13 AM
David - I did not object to your assertion about increased flooding. I will happily admit that I have not done enough research to have an informed opinion on the matter. What mitigation methods are you recommending?
David Keller March 01, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Chad - Good question. I can't say yet what mitigations there need to be. The public needs to know what the Payran and downtown flooding elevation increases are with a 1% storm event. What are the increases in the frequency of flooding and duration of flooding? How many additional cubic feet per second are added to the river above the Payran Flood Project? What happens to those increased flows downtown? Will there be even more water added to the river from the forthcoming Upper Petaluma River Watershed Drainage Project which got underway last Fall? We don't know any of this, because the city's report ignored the information completely - except for the revealing maps. That's the purpose of an EIR, and exactly why California law requires an EIR when there are likely physical impacts not anticipated in the city's Initial Study. The point is to be able to make informed decisions, not fly on blind faith. We've suffered enough with that over the past 50 years. Just ask the folks in the Payran neighborhood about that.
Bill Fishman March 02, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I was surprised to learn in this article that the recent infusion of flood control money was going to be used as far north as Denman Road. Our family building at 1345 Industrial Drive Flooded for the first time the very year that the flood control weir above Payran Street was completed. So did the Auto Mall and many other businesses that had never been hit before. My concern is that if these funds are NOT used to remove constrictions near our building but they ARE used to increase the flow capacity upstream, we are going to get it again. My brothers and I have discussed on several occasions providing the property needed for flood control terracing opposite our building. Wouldn’t it make sense to do that between Corona Road and Petaluma Boulevard North first to make sure that whatever is done upstream actually does what it is supposed to do? We were mollified (if not satisfied) by the assurances of the City engineers that the Weir had nothing to do with the upstream flooding last time around. We will not be so sanguine if we flood again after another flood control project – especially if the purpose is to pave the way for new development upstream that increases the runoff, as has been charged.
Karina Ioffee March 02, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Bill, addressing your last point, I heard back from Pam Tuft yesterday and she said that "development in this area is completely out of the question" and that the city was working on acquiring property adjacent to river to preserve it from future development.
David Keller March 02, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Water surface elevation changes, duration of flood levels, peaks, timing of peak flows all affect everything downstream of the Project area. That includes Mr. Fishman's business location, as well as the Payran and downtown flood-prone areas. None of that is addressed in the Initial Study and proposed CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration. There are no new flood calculations revealed, only WEST engineer's revised flood mapping showing new flooding downtown. Regardless of verbal promises made by any city staffer, this is why a full EIR is required by law. Once upstream lands in Denman Flats, including lands away from the river along Industrial Ave, N. McDowell and Stony Point Road, are removed from floodplain designations, as proposed here, they will not have constraints on future development. No actions should be taken under this Project without full information - in writing, backed up with disclosure of additional impacts. The City just needs to do its due diligence, with full public scrutiny, as required under CEQA.
Bill Fishman March 12, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Okay. Then who is being protected by the proposed work upstream from the Old Redwood Highway overcrossing? Certainly nobody with property in the City of Petaluma. Any work that is done up there will increase the ability of the channel to transmit water downsteam during peak rainfall and to flood property that IS in the City of Petaluma. That issue gets a "pass" if work like this is undertaken without an EIR. A City-sponsored flood control project damn-well ought to be well-enough studied to assure that it does not flood the City.

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