Merced County and state leaders survey swollen rivers to identify infrastructure needs

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County and state officials flew over swollen rivers and streams in the north valley Friday as they prepare for the possible storms.

State officials say this winter could potentially be the second largest recorded rainfall and snow pack its history, and we could be seeing the snow melt until June.

The county is making preparations for the short-term, but state officials say making improvements to water infrastructure is needed for the future.

The north valley may have had a short break from the storms, but law enforcement and state officials took to the skies on Friday to look over worrisome waterways and rivers.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke says it's flooding like this that could be sticking around a little bit longer.

"We're going to be looking at months of water rolling down the Merced River due to snow pack and the incoming storms, right now the inflow outflow regulations on the dam are pretty significant," he said. "But the flows who are feeling the impacts now are going them for a while."

Warnke and Congressman Jim Costa flew over the west side of the county near Los Banos to take a look at water levels. He says water is dissipating and they have some space to work with as storms are expected to come throughout the weekend. However, his concern is with a possible increase in water flows.

"Our concern is what's going to be released at the exchequer, and the concern for that is what's coming into the exchequer," Warnke said.

Costa says, while in the air, the San Joaquin River looked more than a mile wide and the Merced River is flooding beyond its banks. He adds that right now, it's a balancing act between releasing water, but no more than they need to in order to save it for drier seasons.

Recently, the county received millions from FEMA for the damage from January storms. Costa says they could get more once the total amount of damage is determined.

"We have to make an assessment and that's based on the accumulation of the impact of these storms," Costa said. "We'll think we'll have a better idea hopefully by the end of March as our winter weather starts to recede."

He says while flooding problems are being dealt with in the short term, the state needs to focus on make improvements on where all this water should be placed.

"The problem right now is that we have no place to put it," he said. "So, we need to invest in our infrastructure in the long-term."

The sheriff's office says there's no major concern at this time, but is continuing to stress that residents - especially those in low-lying areas - need to be prepared by staying alerted through county-wide notifications and sandbags.
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