Improvements have made La Cañada 'ready' in the face El Niño, civil engineer says

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La Cañada is in a good position to handle heavy rains expected to accompany an El Niño weather pattern this winter, thanks to several recent improvements made in the city’s watershed management system in recent years, county officials reported. Pat Wood, a senior civil engineer with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, updated La Cañada City Council members Tuesday on the steps her department has taken to beef up facilities in the wake of the 2009 Station Fire and subsequent flooding.

She also advised locals who wish to storm-proof their homes, as well as provided resources to contact if and when things go awry.

“Our region is prone to a lot of extreme events — earthquakes, wildfires and, yes, storms. And while these events are the result of nature, the losses are a lot of times human-caused,” Wood told the council. “We’re here tonight to really get people to pay attention that now is the time to prepare for this upcoming storm season.”

Since the city saw several mudslides in 2010, the Public Works Department has been working in conjunction with city officials to improve the stormwater management and capture system in and around La Cañada.

In an interview Wednesday, Wood said the health of the area’s watershed systems was of vital importance to the county.

“The whole region here is ground zero for debris protection in Los Angeles County,” she said, referring to the foothills’ proximity to the Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles River. “All these things are connected, and you’ve got the facilities in the mountains, they’re the backbone of the system.”

To better protect that watershed, the county has increased the storage capacity at four of the city’s debris basins — Mullally, Pickens, Big Briar and Snover — from a combined 162,000 cubic yards to 215,300 cubic yards, an increase of more than 25%, according to Wood.

Additionally, the Department of Public Works has installed a 650-foot, 84-inch basin relief drain near Ocean View Boulevard designed to accommodate 1,300 cubic feet of water per second.

The improvements were not made in anticipation of El Niño, but rather to outfit the area with facilities that were better able to handle the area’s natural watershed, Wood said.

“We prepare our facilities for every storm season,” she added. “Our facilities are ready and our crews are ready to respond.”

Meanwhile, La Cañada city officials and residents say they feel confident the city’s more vulnerable areas will be protected from stormwater damage this winter and beyond. Mayor Dave Spence said he believes county and citywide measures taken in recent years will prove successful.

“I think we’re very well prepared,” Spence said in an interview last week. “You can never say what’s going to happen, but I think we’ve done everything we possibly can to make it a better situation.

The city is making free sand and sandbags available to area homeowners wishing to protect their properties, while county officials are engaging in a public education campaign to teach residents about what to do to prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters.

Tom Smith, a La Cañada Planning Commissioner and Ocean View Boulevard resident, said residents impacted by the 2010 mudslides learned a lot of valuable information, albeit the hard way, and are now better versed about what precautionary measures to take.

“We all know El Niño is coming, and after having seen the last several winters, everyone’s got their own proper measures in place,” Smith said. “I think everybody feels very thankful to the county for the extra steps they’ve taken.”

For more information on Los Angeles County’s El Niño preparedness efforts, including tips to protect your home, visit lacounty.gov/elnino.

Learn more at latimes.com

Chris Alexakiswater