ACAMPO, Calif. —
As residents in the Acampo area of San Joaquin County continue to deal with the massive flooding that has impacted homes and closed schools, there are questions about why the relatively new drainage system in the area did not remove the floodwaters.
Fritz Buchman, director of the San Joaquin Public Works Department, told KCRA 3 that a nearly $2.5 million drainage and pump system – paid for with federal funding – was installed in 2019. Buchman said it was done in response to flooding in 2017. The system involves moving water around the perimeter of the community in a 42-inch drainage pipe, until the water eventually gets dumped into Gill Creek and the Mokelumne River.
So why did the drainage system not work during the flooding this week?
"We had a few challenges. This is the first big test of the system," Buchman said.
Buchman said the pump stopped working sometime between 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday. During those hours, the floodwater impacted several spots in Acampo, including the Arbor Mobile Home Park and two Lodi Unified School District campuses, the Houston School and Joe Serna Jr. Charter School.
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"Once we did get it back on, the watershed downstream of us was so saturated that we had to shut off the pumps for a while to let the system catch up," Buchman said. "We continued pumping until the fire department told us we needed to stop because we were causing downstream impacts."
One of those impacts was that the diverted water was getting onto Highway 99. The highway was shut down as a result of the flooding. Buchman said the pump was turned back on as of 7 a.m. Wednesday. He added that all the accumulated water in the area is expected to be gone by sometime Thursday. However, Buchman said the pumping of the floodwaters to the west will go on for several days.
Buchman said that the San Joaquin Public Works Department knew that the drainage system implemented in 2019 would not be a "silver bullet." Now, after this week’s flooding, he said the county will look at what improvements and changes can be made.
"We have identified some future phases that we need to secure funding for, and we'll work with the community to see how we implement next phases to further reduce flood risks," Buchman said.
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That could potentially include looking at a way to bolster the downstream system, which is what got extremely overwhelmed by the flooding this week, Buchman said, who explained that everything is just conceptual at this point, and whatever future plans are made will likely cost millions of dollars.
As the county figures out what to do, residents in Acampo were still wading through the floodwaters Wednesday night. A neighborhood near Harvest and Frontage roads still had entire backyards submerged. Homeowners, including Maria Casarez-Asuncion, said neighbors banded together to buy pipes and supplies and pump the water out themselves. Casarez-Ascuncion's basement is flooded, and if the water had risen just a few more inches, more of her home could have been damaged.
"I was just crying and rocking back and forth. I closed it down. I started putting stuff up, I started taking the chair and save what I could because this all me, this is my house," Casarez-Asuncion said.
She said she wants the county to work on fixing the drainage and pump system, something she relied on to help her community.
"They need to go back, open what they did, fix it right, because this can happen again, and we’re not going to tolerate that," Casarez-Ascuncion said. "I was hurt, I was crying. Now I’m angry."
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