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Community in flood zone needs advice

 
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We know we live in a flood zone. Kern County, California knows too. We have a levy in our neighborhood that the county water agency is responsible for. Recently, they made a proposal to improve this dirt levy to the tune of almost 4 million dollars. The cost was to be divided among 185 properties affected over the next 2 yrs according to tax assessor property values. The proposed assessment was 52% of our property values. For me, that meant $28,000 added to my property tax bill and if I cant pay it, after 5 years, the county takes my property. Tonight, we unanimously voted down the proposal. But, a similar proposal was voted down some years ago. That proposal was funded by a federal grant and the plan was to buy out the property owners at a nominal price. I didn't live here then and only became aware of that previous proposal tonight. After that previous attempt was voted down, the agency went to court to try to be relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the levy. (We have never seen anything done to it.) They lost and then tried to sue the homeowners which required the homeowners to hire a lawyer. The agency failed in that attempt also. We have wells individually and group owned. Our watershed provides some of the water for L.A. County so we are valuable but most of the property owners are on the bottom of the financial ladder since that money doesn't come to us. I am guessing that Kern County is the beneficiary and they want all of the water. They have already drained our lake and ruined the local economy by saying that our dam needs repair but no repair has been done and they tell us that it wont be done until 2020. They are waiting for engineering reports. They have told us now that they will find another plan to "help us" and that is what is worrying us now. This is a 100 year flood zone. The recent plan was only enough to protect us from a minimal flood which muddies the end of 3 or 4 of our dirt roads. We can handle these but there is a remote possibility of a major event. Almost every home is a manufactured home but most of them are on super permanent foundations. Mine has cement/rebar 3 ft underground and 3 ft above with the home bolted to the foundation and earthquake piers and tie downs on all four corners. The building inspector almost didn't pass me because he said it was overbuilt!

Here is the question. How can we avoid county help? Funny how the problem with the dam and our levy coincides with the drought.
 
pollinator
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Kat Green : Here's where I negate a lot of Negative comments I have previously made about Home Owners Associations H.M.O.s -

In this case it sounds as though with a positive history (?) of community shared wells you have a shot at forming an organization that could stand united against
the local gub'mint .

I rather expect that you would need the services of a whole team of specialists in law , water conservation and ecology, it is interesting that Erin Brockovitch is
now heavily involved in water conservation issues. It would be extremely useful to have someone of that caliber to draw local people to a community wide
consensus building meeting !

This is a " We must ALL hang together - '' '' Or we will hang separately " Thing ! Good luck ! Big AL
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Tough one Kat... I'm no expert on american legalities, or your local geographic situation.

I guess that the county water agency you mention don't want to take on the legal responsibility for your flood protection. I guess that if they failed and a flood reached the properties they would face a bill for property restoration substantially higher than the proposed levy cost? What sounds unfair in this arrangement is that the bill is being allocated only to the properties directly affected by the levy, whereas the flood events are actually in some part controlled by those living upstream of you, and by the actions of the water board itself. It does sound like their proposal is excessively expensive - but then I have no idea of the scale of the work proposed. I'd ask the question - if you as a community bought an excavator and paid a man for a year to run it how much would it cost and what could he achieve? You can move alot of earth in a year! Why are the water board proposing an expensive concrete levy structure instead of enlarging the earthen bank?


The permaculture approach to this is to design the problem away. In this case adapt your environment to mitigate against the high floods.

You don't mention where you are in the watershed, but if you were fairly high up in it you could consider water catchment earthworks to increase rainwater infiltration and storage, which has the effect of lowering peak water flow in the river. This would need to be a large scale, community wide project. You could look at some of Brad Lancaster's work on dry land water harvesting - catching run off from roads and hard-standing, then infiltrating it. In more open country you could start at the top of the watershed and dig on contour swales and include some smaller dams and water catchment features.

On individual properties you can use earthworks to direct the flow of water around critical features, and create areas of still water where vulnerable structure are protected. (You don't mention if these floods are fast moving or more stationary water?). There was an excellent Geoff Lawton video on living in a flood environment published a few months ago.

 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Kat Green :- there is no REAL need to delve into why this community exists on a flood plane, What needs to be determined is what if anything can be
done to ameliorate the effects of the flooding.

Often there is a localized condition where a river can jump its banks and spread over a flood plane and the water crest is diverted into and temporarily
held by this terrain feature. Other areas down stream enjoy the benefits of the water collection and holding that occurs upstream !

And yes, often it is the actions of others still farther upstream that channelize and multiply the harmful effects of the flood crest !

And- It does seem like your counties plan seeks to marginalize even further your low-lying community !

Here is a link to a Geoff Lawton video that goes into some detail an alternative method of accepting some flooding and attempting to minimize its
effects !

http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/77036-flat-land-flash-floods

I expect for many members of your community and yourself this will seem impractical, but take from it what you can! Good luck Big AL
 
Kat Green
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I need to give some more detail for sure.

(quote)I guess that the county water agency you mention don't want to take on the legal responsibility for your flood protection. I guess that if they failed and a flood reached the properties they would face a bill for property restoration substantially higher than the proposed levy cost?

They claim that they would not be liable for any damage to our properties. They used to pay for damage to the farm at the low end but have refused in recent years. There have been no big events since then but the farmer would have to take them to court.


(quote) It does sound like their proposal is excessively expensive - but then I have no idea of the scale of the work proposed. I'd ask the question - if you as a community bought an excavator and paid a man for a year to run it how much would it cost and what could he achieve? You can move alot of earth in a year!

This county has strictly controled building codes. We cant replace our roof without a permit. Moving earth requires a licensed engineers review and an environmental protection approval, insurance, permit fees, etc. The idea has been brought up half jokingly, that we just go clear out the levy and move the earth on a full moon but no one is brave enough so far. There are plenty of tractors and at least one backhoe owned in the neighborhood. I know for sure that the backhoe owner would not want to participate. We might end up doing that if an actual event occurred on the spur of the moment.

(quote) Why are the water board proposing an expensive concrete levy structure instead of enlarging the earthen bank?

They aren't proposing a concrete structure. The $4 mil plan only includes rebuilding the existing earthen bank. They were not even going to start the work until all of the money was collected. Since most if not all of us don't have the money, we would lose our homes and then we would be out of the way at no cost to the agency. Remember, the previous plan was to buy us out. I wish they would offer that now and pay the assessed value. I cant sell my home for that much in the marketplace due to the economy and this stuff hanging over it.

(quote)The permaculture approach to this is to design the problem away. In this case adapt your environment to mitigate against the high floods.

Thank you. That is the answer I am looking for.

(quote)You don't mention where you are in the watershed,

About the middle. When the properties were first subdivided, no one checked for potential problems. When a property changes ownership, the problem is downplayed by real estate agents. Actually, in the 22 years that I have been here, there have been only very minor inconveniences. Old timers tell a story of one large event in the '70's that took out some homes but now we have new foundation codes that may have prevented that. A mobile home on regular jacks sitting on top of the ground would understandably wash away.

(quote)On individual properties you can use earthworks to direct the flow of water around critical features, and create areas of still water where vulnerable structure are protected. (You don't mention if these floods are fast moving or more stationary water?). There was an excellent Geoff Lawton video on living in a flood environment published a few months ago.

Our present foundations have never had the opportunity to be tested. The water is fast moving in the levy but the roads have only mud problems.
My outlet from my dead end road caved in a couple of years ago due to runoff from the paved road that it ajoins. I had to dig out my jeep a couple of times when I tried to get out. The county would not repair it, claiming no responsibility. My neighbor came to the rescue with his Kabota. I will look up that video as soon as possible.


It should also be pointed out that we are mostly senior and disabled people on very low incomes who live here because it is cheap.

There is no river and only a seasonal stream that rarely has water in it due to the fact that we are lucky to get about 9 inches a year in precipitation. The water comes from snow melt and occasional torrential rains. Actual events are extremely rare. The water runs down the valley and empties into the Kern River and then into the lake which is supported by the dam. The water is not allowed to stay in the dam as mentioned before so it is drained off by the lower Kern River to Bakersfield, the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles.

I think that your suggestions are excellent and applicable and very much appreciated. Now if I can just get the community motivated out of their complacency. The attitude now is that the problem with the agency has been averted and no further action is needed on our part. I don't think that the agency expected to get community approval, obviously. They knew the money was not here. I am expecting the other shoe to fall.
 
Michael Cox
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I've added a really crude sketch of how a berm might be used to make a pool of still water to shelter some houses. The homes are exposed to rising water, but not catastrophic damage from flowing water. Notice that the houses are on the upstream side of the berm.

The berm need not be classified as anything other than landscaped planting bank, complete with trees or other plants to stabilise it (bamboo would be a prime candidate - the fibrous roots would stabilise the earthen bank and the stems would slow and filter the water, trapping organic matter and building soil.

Later edit - I guess my point is that if you as a community take some control over your own flood protection then you can just let the water board and their levy sag into decay. If your community has the tools for digging some ditches and banks then I can see a rash of raised landscaping beds in your neighbourhoods future. They don't need to be big either - you can size them to shelter just one house and probably have all the earthworks done by machine in a day or two.
berm.png
[Thumbnail for berm.png]
Berm makes a pool of still water upstream which fills then deflects the main flow around the houses. Houses are exposed to stationary/low velocity flows only.
 
Kat Green
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Thanks. We can look into a version of this. There is another community to the west of ours and we have to make sure we are not sending out problem to them. The levy is between us and them and runs from the south downhill to the north. On the east side is a mountain range just on the other side of the main paved road, so no room on that side. I appreciate the thought. I love the idea of planting, especially interested in the bamboo. Some people are afraid of bamboo. Would the less invasive type do as well? I was even thinking of beavers uphill because they wont have to go through the county permit process!

The water itself is less of a problem than the county management of that water. However, if we could show them that it can be controlled with our own efforts, they might stop trying to drive us out. I don't think it would control "the big one" but it might turn it into a smaller event in spite of the amount of water.

Maybe, I start small. If I can control the washout at the end of my street with some permie type engineering, the rest of the community would notice and might take some action of their own. So, with that thought in mind...My property is east of the levy but it has never been water overflowing the levy that caused a problem. My water comes off of the main paved road and puddles and erodes the soil right at the entrance to my dead end road. Overflow from that works its way down the road in front of my home but does not invade my land just the road. Gravel at the road entrance just gets washed away. Tried that. I was thinking of digging it out about 1 1/2 to 2 ft deep and installing a perforated tube embedded in gravel up against the edge of that paved road. I will need to keep debris and dirt from clogging the tube. I have a couple of pvc drainage tubes and a sleeve of cheesecloth to cover it with left from another project. Maybe metal screen would last longer. Maybe a trough (I would have to be able to drive over it)? I think that I need to keep that water moving downhill without pooling. What do you think?

Downhill about 1/4 of a mile, the water appears to be coming from the levy and/or from the mountains (so both from west and east direction) and washes mud onto the paved road. It seems to be mostly on the roads and not on the private property (due to compaction?).

 
Posts: 3375
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Kat Green wrote:
The water itself is less of a problem than the county management of that water.



This is a universal truth with government's management of anything.

If you already are on piers, you are probably OK. As are all the other houses built to recent earthquake code. I have seen fights over property because it was "in the flood plain" when it was 2 inches of water in the corner of the property at the 100 year line. Someone else with connections wanted the property. You need to know the height of water predicted in a 100 year flood to know what to do next.
 
Kat Green
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Tell me about it! I didn't have the problem with the water pooling at the entrance to my road until a couple years ago after the county repaved the main road. The changed the slope!
 
Michael Cox
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Kat

Take a look at this video from Geoff Lawton/Brad Lancaster.

If you want to reduce pooling/flooding at the end of your road you could look at putting some pits in beside the road to catch the water so it doesn't reach your drive. You would start at the top of the hill and work downwards. You would need exact details of slopes etc... to plan it, but it will give the general idea.

Dry land water harvesting from roads
 
Posts: 99
Location: zone 6a, north america
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a couple more pennies to throw on the pile:

-- after reading the story and knowing a bit about the larger drama regarding water in CA, i happen to agree that your instinct to be cautious & considerate, as well as a tad bit suspicious, is well-founded. it sounds to me like there very could be a much larger game being played here underneath the surface. $4M to do an earthen berm? seriously? if it really costs that much, all the permies with visions of giant earthworks undulating across the american landscape better get some more kickstarters up touts suite.

-- in an ideal world, the ideas that Michael et. al shared could be the foundation of a solution that solves a problem and yet works to solve another problem : how to grow successful food in a droughted landscape with elegantly efficient water harvesting. unfortunately, in this case, we seem to addressing a far less than ideal situation -- the point where the rubber meets the road imho when discussing building earthworks in large parts of the U.S. however, further discussion of this is probably a can of worms that i do not have enough apples to open, so it's best to leave that on the shelf for now.

-- in your particular case, it seems that the immediate issue is not the levy but how to best mitigate water from the road without exporting the problem to someone else. the challenge is do that without causing too much undue attention and/or create something that may cause you personal consequences down the line. it doesn't seem that the local authorities will be so helpful in this, so maybe it's best to consider a solution that's either (a) invisible or (b) visible but working within their "rules" without requiring the need for any permits. thus, this may require the need to be a bit more creative in devising a solution that is alternative to just "building an earthwork".

-- artfully designed planting somewhat perpendicular to slope might be a solution, ones that will create an underground root mass/aboveground biomass that will mimic the function of a swale berm in trapping surface and just below surface water and spread it across an area that can sponge up the excess. bamboo is a good idea yes, but non-spreading clumping bamboo. if so, make sure whomever you purchase from gives a receipt with the exact species planted, just in case you run into any future issues with someone claiming that you planted an "invasive species". also, fyi, at retail, clumping bamboo is not cheap, at least anywhere i've looked. maybe someone else could suggest an alternative species that could fulfill the same function. maybe native would be even better because then you would get props from the conservationists, if it ever came to that.

-- as far as the levy goes, i would consider slowly and quietly discovering the full backstory on why the original buyout offer was refused and maybe start planting seeds to soften that resistance so that just in case, that path may present itself again in the future, you could collectively harness your energy into getting the best price possible if it came to that. you may not all realize it yet, but it appears that you all may be sitting on some very valuable property. unfortunately, in the eyes of those pulling strings, the land may be most valuable when it is underwater. if so, then to them, it's just a question of how to remove obstacles as quickly & easily as possible. (that's not my opinion btw, but then again, i'm not anywhere near to being in charge.)

hope this helps in some way...
 
Kat Green
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siu-yu man, I think you are 100% correct and I appreciate your suggestions. I have heard that the agency offered too little money for a buy out but that is in the eye of the beholder. In this real estate market, that might be a good offer. If I was offered the tax assessors appraised amount, I would happily accept. (That is about 1/2 of what this place cost me in 2007.) I will look into the planting idea and talk to any neighbors who will listen. I will also be watching that video when I can get to a computer that will play it. Thanks everyone.
 
siu-yu man
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Location: zone 6a, north america
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i wouldn't be surprised if it was too low. first offers usually are, especially when they're made to elderly disabled folk.
whatever happens, just don't sell yourself short, and consider that the "resale" value of your property may be radically underestimating the value of your land.
"Don't forget Jake, it's Chinatown."
you might want to read the stories of the people who held out in their rent-stabilized apartments around Atlantic Center in NYC when the developers came knocking.
not quite permaculture, so will leave it there with best wishes for a successful outcome for all of you.
 
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