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Preparing for El Niño: Tips To Protect San Diego Homes

October 26, 2015 1:08 p.m.

Preparing for El Niño: Tips To Protect San Diego Homes Inside and Outside

GUESTS:

Nan Sterman, host, KPBS TV's "A Growing Passion"

Nancy Kincaid, press secretary, California Department of Insurance

Related Story: Preparing For El Niño: Tips To Protect San Diego Homes

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

You are listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You listen to all the warnings and advice about conserving water. You changed your landscaping to drought resistant plants. You that you're a long Brown. Now you hear that a record-breaking El Niño is on its way with the possibility of torrential rainfall. Was going to happen to all of your new landscaping? Your new plans and all of that old landscaping you allowed to die. Joining me to help explain is our good friend regarding expert Nan Sterman, the host of the KPBS television series, a growing passion. Welcome back.
Thank you are having me.
Nancy Kincaid is here, Press Secretary of the California Department of Insurance. Man, so many people must be asking questions like this, there is quite a lot of concern about the El Niño storms.
There is a lot of concern about the El Niño storms. When people started asking me a copy off guard. How am I going to protect my plans from the rain and I thought what do you mean protect your plans from the rain. Then I started thinking about it and realized there are some issues and it's really not the rain hitting the plants that is an issue. What I see is what happens to the rain once it hits the g round. The last thing we want is for plants to stand in water. The plant roots need air as much as they need water. If you have plans standing in water they can literally drown.
I think a lot of people who must be asking that question are particularly concerned because of the fact that they've been planting, taking up old gardening and planting drought tolerant water wise plans so are they at any special risk if we get too much rain?
No, they will be doing the happy dance. Drought tolerant plants are not any more susceptible to rain than any other plans. The main issue for the plants themselves is what happens to their roots. If we get hail you get damage but that doesn't usually kill plants. What is most important is to make sure the soil drains and we don't have standing water. We were just talking in the green room that we could have situations in the lower areas and estuaries where there will be standing water. If that happens it doesn't matter if your plans are drought tolerant or not, they are going to suffer the same way.
Let's say you do have standing water, what do you do about it?
There is not much you can do about it.
Other than half of p rotection.
But your plans in specific, --
If you can't get the water to drain away from the plants, you hope it will drain in time that the roots don't drown before the water leaves.
If you find your plans basically in a puddle that won't go away and with the possible damage to the root structure, does that mean in some somewhere you planted them in the wrong place in the first place?
Yes and no, it depends on the plants. We have plants that are needed to areas like her estuaries that flood and dry. At high tide the water comes in or if we have rains in the watershed, the water comes in from the ocean. Those plans are involved to tolerate periodic floods. If you have like a bio swale which is built to collect water when it rains. A bio swale is a depression that you plant these plans in. The ones that don't have webbed feet over time and those plans have a longer period of being able to tolerate the standing water. The rest of the plants, if they are in that area were water puddles under normal conditions, you put the wrong plants in the wrong place.
Not a good time to find out.
But this is an anomaly. We don't know what's going to happen.
Goyette Nancy, I have a question for you. Last week, the weather service urged Californians in floodplains to get flood insurance. Do we know about how many people that would affect here in Southern California?
I don't have a firm number on that but one of the things that was so important is even if you are in a low risk zones is important to buy flood insurance this year. When it if things we have seen with the fires here in San Diego and in Carlsbad, there are plant life and things along the hillsides to hold the water so you will have more water coming down if you are below those areas. We know these storms bring lots of rain. If they do just the areas that have had more development where we have more concrete and asphalt there is nowhere for the water to go. Even if that is that the issue, after four years of sustained drought, the likes which we have seen since the mid- 70s, the ground has parched in a way it makes it difficult to absorb water so we are going to hit the limit of what it can absorb.
Last week the National Weather Service spoke on KPBS evening edition about which areas in San Diego could be prone to flooding.
The impacted areas, the San Diego River, the Mission Valley area saw a lot of flooding. Those areas are going to be the most prone to flooding if we get would've these systems that settles over us and drains were to three days. Other flood prone or low-lying areas, --
Isn't there a way for people to find out if they live in an area prone to flooding?
That information is available through either the weather service in your area, you can get it through FEMA. FEMA has flood maps. York County office of development and services should have that information also. The whole new blog probably headed disclosure if it had ever seen a flood, that is something else to look at. His points are well made and the thing for people to recognize is what NOAA said is don't forget it takes 30 days for flood insurance policy to be in place before you can use it so don't wait until it starts raining. They tell us the heaviest rain will start in late November or early December. The time to buy the policy now. In the whiskers egregious at about $320 and $500. If you look at some of the ways we spend money on a monthly basis, eating out or even at a Starbucks for a year that might pay for your flood insurance policy.
Isn't there a problem with what flood insurance does or doesn't cover? It doesn't cover mud?
It typically doesn't cover mudflow or landslide. The only company that sold insurance for that types of risk is Lloyds and they are very particular about how and where they write it. Those surplus lines are not admitted. The ones you have to go to to get mudflow insurance.
So the thing probably to do is if you have a hillside that looks like it might be a problem if we get heavy rains near or on your property, you might want to do something about that now.
This is why the big issues with people during their hillsides thinking they will be more fire safe and leaving them there. That is foldable to the rainfall hitting hillside or eroding the hillside. People plant ice plants and think it will hold the hillside. It doesn't. Ice plant is literally pulled down the hillside after a rain. Those are really dangerous. You got to have trees and shrubs that had deep roots that hold the hillside in place and stem erosion which is what our natural chaparral guys. For those people who have cleared the area, I was driving down 5 and I looked on the hillside and there was a spot that looks like someone shaved it. There are a few things you can do. There are big wattles that look like stockings and filled with straw. You can put those horizontal the across the hillside and act as a little dams. Or you can use this big coarse burlap like a big fabric you can spread and layout on the hillsides but nothing takes the place of actually having plants.
But if you don't have plans --
Or if you're hillside is newly planted, a lot of people have been planting, those bottles really help because you slow down the flow of the water down the hill which is the point.
How do you prepare your garden for big storm?
Aside from the standing water issue, there's really I'm not -- not a lot you can do for that. Nancy was like about the soil not being able to absorb water. This is one of the big concerns with people using gravel mulch. Under the gravel the soil bakes. Is even worse if you have done gravel on top of plastic or weed cloth. Weed cloth does all that much water through and plastic leaves no water so those soils will not absorb water and not help in the rainfall comes. Other than that what I would say is for people to go through their property indeed you know you have a low point see which you can do to alleviate that and then when you have potted p lants, that is an issue. You have got to make sure the drain holes in the bottom of the pots are clear. You have to make sure if you have pots sitting in the dish, that is a problem because that will hold water and the soil in your pot will be completely saturated. You want to get rid of dishes or raise the pots above the height of the rim on the edge.
If the roots of the plants get saturated and stay saturated for too long it can actually cause a fungus to kill the p lant?
It creates conditions where there is so much humidity in there and in the soil that plants plans become more susceptible to the fungus that is sort of ubiquitous. One thing that is important for people to know when the soil is wet, everybody thinks I'm going to dig holes to plant. That is the worst time. You want to wait a couple of days after rainfall because when you stand on what soil it compacts and you do not want to do that.
Nancy, what has been is been California's experience with flood damage in El Niño storms?
It 82, 83, 87 and 98 we saw a record floods. In some areas we saw flooding we had never seen it before. I was telling Nan I remember being out on a story in 97 with someone who had a new home. I commented that I didn't see the waterline from where the flooded been. He said my home was submerged. I had chills looking at a 30-foot pitch on a roof and thinking the home was so completely underwater you couldn't see it. That is something we can't fathom. The point being made by the experts is don't wait for that. There are number things you can do. If you can't buy the flood insurance or you don't want to, understand you were s elf-insured. The government will bail you o ut. It is devastating what a flood can do. At a minimum take your smart phone, get off Facebook for a while and do a home inventory. Record your property, assets and belongings because it will save you hours of grief later when you are filing a claim or trying to get assistance and you can't remember everything you owned. You think you will but you w on't.
The thing if you are considering, if you live in a flood prone area and you are considering getting flood insurance because you are concerned about these predicted storms, the time to do that is now.
Right now. The storms that are predicting are due to come within the next 30 days and that policy has to be in force for 30 days before you can file a claim. Buy it now. Even the experts said if you only buy it for 1 year by this year.
Do you know if there is been a increased interest? It has been more purchasing a flood insurance?
Not in the last week I'm aware of. What is alarming the experts is after four years of sustained drought, quite a few people dropped their flood insurance because they thought it was never going to rain again. Only about 37% total I think dropped their policies, that's a huge number of people to drop their policies so they are urging folks to reconsider. I've had flood insurance for 34 years in Sacramento. I wouldn't be without it. I've never had to file a claim but about me peace of mind.
In closing, Nan I went to get a word or two from you because after all this talk of rain and flood we have to remember our region is still a long-term drought.
That's the ironic part. This is going to contribute nothing to the snowpack on the sea areas and that is what we need, the cold snow to create the snowpack that will slowly melt and hopefully replenish our water system. On the upside we get rainfall those people who have been preparing their property with cisterns and all of that they are going to have water to keep their gardens going at least for a few months after the rains and but it's also important to clean your rain gutters and make sure if you have French drains they are cleaned out and do everything you can. What we want to do is contain water on our properties in the soil. That is the most important t hing. Any water in excess of that is what you have to be concerned about.
I want to thank you. I've been speaking with Nan Sterman and Nancy Kincaid, our secretary of the California Department of Insurance. Thank you both very much.