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Councilman Alvarez Urges San Diego To Declare State Of Emergency Ahead Of El Niño

Photo by Susan Murphy

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez (center) discusses the city's El Niño preparations at a committee meeting at City Hall, Oct. 7, 2015.

Report: The Economic Impact Of El Niño In San Diego

GUESTS:

Vince Vasquez, senior policy analyst, National University System Institute for Policy Research.

Courtney Pendleton, communications director, American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties

Transcript

“The City must be prepared to protect residents and businesses that are at risk for extreme flooding,” Councilman David Alvarez said. “Acting now to perform channel maintenance in areas that typically flood is critical to ensuring the safety of our communities."

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez urged the city Wednesday to consider declaring a State of Emergency ahead of El Niño due to badly maintained water channels. Alvarez made the request following an Environment Committee meeting that was focused on the city's efforts to prepare for the predicted “strong” El Niño.

Climate researchers have warned for months the weather phenomenon could trigger floods, mudflows and coastal erosion across the region starting in November and continuing into spring.

“The city must be prepared to protect residents and businesses that are at risk for extreme flooding,” said Alvarez. “Acting now to perform channel maintenance in areas that typically flood is critical to ensuring the safety of our communities and avoiding the devastation we have seen in other areas of the country that have been hit hard by storms and flooding.”

Photo credit: NOAA

The developing El Niño is on track to become one of the most powerful on record, with water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

Climate researcher Dan Cayan with Scripps Institution of Oceanography updated the committee with the latest forecast, comparing current conditions to previous strong El Niños.

“We have increased odds of wet winter and possible hazards, but there are no guarantees as far as making precise forecasts,” Cayan said.

Cayan said coastal erosion could be a concern as El Niño’s “large scale wind system” has already pushed sea levels up along the West Coast.

“This year we’re seeing sea levels, recently, of approximately a half-foot above tide prediction without storms, so it’s really the case that when a storm comes in — that’s when we really have to pay attention,” Cayan said.

A report released this week by the National University System Institute for Policy Research warned 5,000 businesses and 55,000 residents of San Diego County are living in “100-year flood” zones that are susceptible to flooding.

Kris McFadden, director of San Diego’s Transportation and Stormwater department, told the committee of his department’s efforts to clear channels and storm drains and to maintain pump stations.

“Twenty-eight thousand is a number — a big number. That’s the number of storm drain inlets the city has throughout this very large area,” McFadden said. “All of those have been inspected at least once and cleaned if necessary."

“While we put forth an unprecedented effort in order to manage flood risk, there’s no guarantee that we will not be flooding this year. I cannot emphasize that enough,” McFadden added.

San Diego’s incoming fire chief, Brian Fennessy, said his department is trained and ready to respond if the city is hit with a flood emergency.

“We have the ability on the fire side of the house to surge,” Fennessy said. “We’ve got 32 additional engines that we can staff at any one time so if we get into prolonged rain or storm conditions we have the ability to pull firefighters back and really provide that support to lifeguards.”

Fennessy said the Lifeguards' 19-member Swift Water Rescue team is the lead division within the fire department when it comes to water rescues.

“They also provide our firefighters every year with swift water rescue refresher training,” Fennessy said.

Alvarez requested that a hotline be made available at all hours during storms for the public to receive up-to-date information.

"I intend to work closely with city departments to ensure we are prepared and ready when the winter storms hit,” Alvarez said.

Evening Edition host Peggy Pico speaks with Vince Vasquez, senior policy analyst at National University System Institute for Policy Research and Courtney Pendleton, communications director for the American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties about the possible implications of El Niño.

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