City of San Diego’s El Nino Response

Clearing storm channels is an even bigger challenge now

As city crews race the El Nino clock, clearing the storm channels is an even bigger challenge now that the ground is saturated from prior rains.

In the Smythe Channel, a machine got stuck briefly in the mud Thursday.

As far as the storm channel clearing goes, residents told NBC 7 it’s about time.

“Finally,” said San Ysidro resident Dawn Rodriguez. “After more than 10 years. It looks a lot better.”

Rodriguez said her parents and other neighbors have been asking the city to clear it out for a decade.

“It’s all for the betterment of the neighborhood and avoiding floods,” said Jorge Negrete, a San Ysidro homeowner.

The Smythe Channel near the U.S. Mexico border is one of 13 channels the city identified as high-priority in November.

It took emergency permits to allow crews to work here.

In late November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a warning to the State Water Resources Control Board, which is involved in the lengthy and complicated permit process.

The letter said: “Failure to prepare immediately, in light of improved predictions and damage caused by the prior strong El Nino’s, would be unacceptable.”

The city’s Transportation and Storm Water Department has a $130 million annual budget, with approximately $45 million of that allocated to the storm water division.

According to a January city memo, the department estimates it will be about $8.4 million over budget because of the necessary El Nino response.

When asked why the work isn’t done on a more routine basis, a spokesman explained a single permit during a non-emergency can take up to 18 months for permission to clear one storm channel.

Homeowners say the growth in the canal is a nuisance.

“There were stoves and refrigerators and stuff in there. When it rains, it’s got a terrible smell,” Rodriguez said.

After being woken up by the sound of chainsaws earlier in the week, Negrete said he wishes the city had issued some type of notification to residents that the work would begin.

“Overall, it’s good that they’re clearing it out. I think it’s going to be better now,” he said.

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