SAN FRANCISCO – California water officials took advantage of a weekend lull in the stormy weather to patch weak spots in the state's levee system as more rain loomed ahead.
After the rainiest March on record, many reservoirs in California's Central Valley are groaning at full capacity, and 10 more days of rain are forecast. Sunday's break in the weather allowed time to shore up levees and other water-control sites at risk of failing.
"We saw in New Orleans the storm was coming in, it was known days ahead, and we're not sure they took all the steps that they could have," said Rodney Mayer, acting chief of the California division of flood management.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for California's levee system in February, a step that freed up about $103 million for repairs to 24 flood-prone sites.
That work is typically done in the summer, when water behind the levees is at its low point, but state water officials decided not to wait.
Mayer identified seven sites that were being bolstered Sunday, most in sparsely populated areas.
Six were in San Joaquin County, including three near the tiny community of Two Rivers, a two-hour drive east of San Francisco near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers. Workers were building a berm, filling in a ditch and adding rocks to protect a river bank from further erosion.
Another San Joaquin project was reinforcing the Paradise Cut levee near Lathrop.
The seventh site was in Fresno County, near the town of Firebaugh, population approximately 7,000, where crews were raising a levee that protects the town.