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San Diego has lingering issues with stormwater

The city of San Diego did a lot of work in Chollas Creek to prepare for the incoming storm, but they didn't fix everything. KPBS environment Reporter Erik Anderson says some small tributaries into the creek remain clogged and prone to flooding.

The city of San Diego did a lot of work in Chollas Creek since Jan. 22 to prepare for more rain, but they did not fix everything. Some small tributaries into the creek remain clogged and are prone to flood.

Diane Armenta’s sloping backyard is just one example.

Armenta lives on 36th street in Southcrest about halfway up a hill that rises from Acacia Grove Way, the last street before Chollas Creek.


Water that falls on that hillside is supposed to drain down a culvert at the back end of her property. But on Jan. 22 she was looking out at a pond where much of her backyard is supposed to be.

Fences and walls cross that drainage area and she said a homeless man has blocked the chain-link fence with cardboard. That fence spans the channel.

“With this backage that he put up here, it stops the flow,” said Armenta. “You can see all the leaves. Pretty soon, they’re going to be on top of where the gate is. And then the next property over ... (has) a retaining wall that holds back the water. And there’s a small little hole there that should let the water go through, but it doesn’t.”

Armenta said the city should clear out the obstructions and making sure the area drains properly, but she has not reached out directly.

“You know, I shouldn’t have to live this way.” Armenta said. “And I feel they’re double-dipping because they get money from my taxes for this easement and they don’t maintain it. Here, I have to pay somebody to come in and take care of it.”


Chollas Creek got more of the city’s attention after flash flooding did so much damage to homes and businesses at the bottom of the hill. Crews have since cut down much of the vegetation that restricted flows and caused blockages in the creek.

Many of the homes on Beta Street, on the other side of Chollas Creek, were in 4 feet of water that spilled out of the causeway. Some residents there lost everything.

“I’m not sure (if the city) could’ve anticipated what was coming here, and I think the residents knew it because they’ve been suffering from chronic flooding for years,” said Leslie Reynolds with Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek.

The group works with residents to build green spaces that are more natural and resilient than the existing infrastructure.

“ ... We can start to advance solutions that are not just gray infrastructure. Culverts and pipes. We need green infrastructure solutions,” Reynolds said. “Why? This is not a drainage system. This is the Chollas Creek watershed ecosystem.”

Reynolds was encouraged by the city’s quick response to the emergency situation, but she is most encouraged about a climate resiliency working group.

That panel will include members of the community who can warn the city about problem areas in the neighborhood and help find solutions.

“I think if any awareness, anything positive comes out of this, is just people’s awareness of how important it is for us to invest in infrastructure that they often don’t see and don’t realize is there until it fails,” said Kris McFadden, the deputy chief operating officer with the City of San Diego.

But city officials concede they cannot fix everything in one week.

“We have about 200 channel segments in the city and we’re only able to do about four a year,” McFadden said.

That is 50 years of work with the existing budget.

A city report released in January found the city has a backlog of work needed to bring the city stormwater system up to date. The report estimated it would take $1.6 billion to fully fund all the projects.