How the City Prepares for Stormwater Flooding

By Jon LeSage
ON JAN. 22, a crew had to clear debris from the drains on southbound 405 in Long Beach near the Cherry Ave. exit. Long Beach freeways, including the 710, have faced their share of backups from stormwater flooding in recent years.

Flooding has come back to Long Beach freeways and nearby streets. Are we ready for what comes next?

Major flooding shut down part of southbound 710 Freeway on Thursday, Feb. 1, near Pacific Coast Highway. The southbound lanes were shut down right before 10 a.m. for over an hour before being reopened. During that time, a few cars were stuck and partially submerged on Willow St. near State Route 103. Firefighters and tow trucks were present to help drivers and vehicles get out safely. The 710 and PCH connection area have been vulnerable to flooding during other past rain seasons.

On Jan. 22, a crew had to clear debris from the drains on southbound 405 Freeway in Long Beach near the Cherry Ave. exit. Other vehicles were backed up all the way past the 710 Freeway interchange into Carson, and the northbound side was slowed down. The freeway was flooded after hours of rain had been pouring down, which was the situation on Feb. 1 as well.

Weather forecasts expect the rain to lift this weekend, but that could change with December through February typically being the wettest time of the year in Southern California.

The State Transportation Department (Caltrans) is responsible for maintaining or causing to be maintained, any project constructed with federal-aid funds and all bridges carrying federal-aid routes – our freeways and major bridges. The work is to clear flood debris from the roadway, according to state procedures.

The City of Long Beach has its own part to play in ensuring that streets can be rapidly cleared from accumulated stormwater that’s causing flooding – and in other parts of the city such as parks and other public spaces. Those who’ve lived and worked in Long Beach for a few years clearly remember other major flooding incidents all over town. We look forward to rain ending a potential drought, but we don’t want to discover that our cars parked on the street are nearly underwater.

There’s also the expectation we have that old drainage and storm-water runoff systems get replaced or improved – to make sure flooding doesn’t happen and that contaminants don’t build up. Long Beach became a city in 1897 and proceeded to eventually put in over 700 miles of sanitary sewer lines that can now collect and deliver over 40 million gallons of wastewater per day, according to Long Beach Water; along with the city’s stormwater drainage system doing its job. All of this drainage water goes to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County for treatment; and most of it is treated at the Long Beach Water Reclamation Plant on the east side of the city that is operated by the county.

Colorado Lagoon Stormwater System Improved

The Colorado Lagoon in the Belmont Shore area is a good example of what has to be done to manage stormwater and to comply with state and local laws governing protected habitat. Visitors to the park, located at 5119 E. Colorado St. in Long Beach, have been quite pleased to see the lagoon and its park in recent years become a great place to go for picnics, bike rides, hikes, and swimming.

The lagoon had previously been part of the Los Cerritos Wetlands and was connected to Marine Stadium. Over several decades, contaminants accumulated from stormwater runoff and the tidal exchange became stagnant. That qualified the lagoon for the Federal Clean Water Action section on impaired water bodies. From that came a restoration program in 2009 that has continued to see its goals being met over the years.

Eventually, the 18-acre saltwater tidal lagoon became hydraulically connected to Alamitos Bay and the ocean through a 900-foot underground concrete box culvert located under Marina Vista Park. Now the lagoon is equipped to serve three primary functions: it hosts estuarine habitat, it provides public recreation including swimming, and it retains and conveys storm water.

On Dec. 13, the city hosted a virtual community meeting to update the public on the latest work having been done on the lagoon and the surrounding area. Much work was completed since the summer leading to the final component of the Colorado Lagoon’s approved master restoration plan getting underway. That final component involves creating an open channel between the Colorado Lagoon and Marine Stadium. The goal is to bring full tidal circulation to the Colorado Lagoon. The city is working with state and federal agency partners, and the Port of Long Beach, on the funding and construction of the upcoming open channel.

Department Monitoring Stormwater System

Long Beach’s Stormwater Management Plan was created to prohibit non-stormwater discharge and reduce the discharge of pollutants in an effort to limit adverse impact to the ocean and coastal region. It’s managed through the city’s Stormwater and Environmental Compliance Division, which is responsible for monitoring the City’s stormwater quality and maintaining the storm drain system.

All of the stormwater runoff comes from rain or excess water over land or other surfaces like streets, parking lots, and building rooftops that are not able to soak the water into the ground. One of the most serious problems coming from it all is that stormwater runoff can pick up and deposit pollutants such as trash, chemicals, oils, and dirt and sediment that can harm the ocean and coastline.

The Stormwater and Environmental Compliance Division has been assigned to protect wetlands and aquatic ecosystems, improve the quality of coastal water, conserve water resources, protect public health, and manage flood control, the city says. The department works with communities, construction companies, and industries to deploy stormwater controls to filter out pollutants and to prevent pollution from accumulating.

The city’s Public Works Department offers a set of links and information on being better prepared for flooding. You can find those resources at: www.longbeach.gov/pw/resources/flood-zone/

One of those resources is getting information for homeowners who want to obtain federally-backed flood insurance. The city became a participant in the National Flood Insurance Program to make that option available to homeowners who want to participate.

The City of Long Beach Department of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Communications needs to know about flooding in the city, and you can reach them by calling 9-1-1. The city needs to keep the dispatchers focused on these and other emergencies. Last year, the department launched the “Help Us Help You” program to reduce non-emergency calls answered by the dispatchers. For residents who want to call in potholes, graffiti, illegally dumped items and other non-emergencies, you can call it in to dispatch at (562) 435-6711.

Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com.

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