Floods inundate Maxwell, portions of western Colusa County

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The Colusa County Sheriff’s Office first received reports of flooding along Bismark Avenue in Maxwell at around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Thirty minutes later, emergency personnel were in the process of evacuating between 150 and 200 residents whose homes were threatened by rising water. A few hours after that, nearly a third of Maxwell – mostly the northern and eastern portions of town – was under nearly a foot of water.

“We got a call at 1:34 a.m. for flooding out on Bismark,” Maxwell Fire Chief Kenny Cohen said. “That’s when I walked out of my house and stepped in water. At that point, I knew that there was trouble there…. Saturday morning was just evacuations. The water hit so fast that we didn’t have time to do anything else.”

Colusa County Sheriff Joe Garofalo said while reports of flooding on Bismark Avenue started coming in at around 1 a.m., the water began “rising aggressively” at about 1:30 a.m., at which point the notifications and evacuations began.

“Those continued until about 4 a.m.,” Garofalo said. “The water continued to move south onto the Olive Road area, and from there diverted and started heading east, across Highway 99, in front of the Chevron Station and Caldwell’s Market. It started heading south from there, flooded across Maxwell-Colusa Road as you are coming into town to East Avenue, and continued south onto Cosner Avenue and eventually out of town.”

While parts of Maxwell are prone to inundation in wet years, many lifelong residents of Maxwell said that they’ve never seen anything like the flooding that took place last weekend – not even in 1997, when intense flooding was rampant across the county.

As he was driving through the fast-flowing torrent of water over Maxwell-Colusa Road just after sunrise on Saturday morning, Colusa County Assistant Director of Public Works and Maxwell native Michael Azevedo said that this was the worst flood event in Maxwell in his recollection. Cohen said the same on Tuesday.

“I’ve seen it where it floods north of town, but never in town this much,” Cohen said. “Both Stone Corral Creek and Funks Creek overflowed, which is what sent the water our way.”

In a press release issued on Saturday morning, the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Emergency Services also blamed the unusual flooding on “an overabundance of water over… 24 hours” that caused local creeks and canals to flow over their banks. As a result of the flooding, the Sheriff’s Office “initiated voluntary evacuations for those who felt their safety was at risk.”

Emergency personnel began knocking on doors to notify and evacuate residents at about 2:30 a.m., Cohen said, and swift water rescue teams from the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office and Meridian Volunteer Fire Department had to be called in to assist some residents in evacuating – including those on Bismark Avenue, Cosner Avenue, and at the Maxwell Mobile Home and RV Park north of town.

“We had to make several water rescues,” Garofalo said.

Among those residents were Leighann Morris and her children.

“It was pretty crazy, pretty scary. I got a call from my neighbor at 3:30 a.m., I opened my door, and the water was so high that I couldn’t get out. I called the Sheriff’s Office and they said they would be there to evacuate us with a boat,” Morris said. “It was a little bit over their waists when they came walking through, and the water was moving very swiftly. We got out of the boat near the Chevron station, and they told us to walk to the high school, but it was too deep and too swift for my girls to walk. We had to wait for a shuttle to get us there.”

Morris and her family had a dry place to stay in Maxwell, but she said that most of the residents of the Maxwell Mobile Home and RV Park had to stay at a Red Cross Evacuation Center at the Williams Education Village. Colusa County Transit buses transported about 60 evacuated Maxwell residents from a command center at Maxwell High School to the official evacuation center in Williams on Saturday, Assistant Sheriff Jim Saso said. The evacuation center had closed by the end of the day on Sunday.

In addition to the flooding in Maxwell, the northern part of Williams also experienced flooding, and area roads and highways were closed due to flooding and mudslides. Even portions of Interstate 5 had about a foot of water over the roadway south of Maxwell. While I-5 remained open, flooding across all four lanes rendered the freeway nearly impassable and backed traffic up for a stretch of nearly 15 miles.

Respite from Flooding as second storm falls short of expectations

The water in town “dissipated rather quickly” after the flood event, Garofalo said, although some pools did remain.

Even as water had begun to recede in Maxwell, local officials and residents alike were bracing for a second storm on Monday, which forecasters were predicting would be even worse than Saturday’s deluge.

“On Sunday, the county did some levee work and some cleaning up out there,” Cohen said. “As a result, (the fire department) thought that the water would be going north of town, so we went around and sandbagged everything in that direction and started shoring things up and making necessary preparations in town for the storm on Monday.

Luckily for the community of Maxwell, Monday’s storm didn’t bring the flooding that Saturday’s had.

Asked whether the Sheriff’s Office anticipated any further significant flooding problems for county residents moving forward, Assistant Sheriff Jim Saso said that he did not.

“I don’t anticipate any future problems. We will monitor water levels throughout the county’s creeks, sloughs, and streams. A big problem for us, and a huge strain on our resources was people driving past road closed signs and requiring rescue by us or the fire departments. Those signs are up there for a reason,” Saso said.

Damage to Businesses,
homes, school and government building

While no official dollar figure has been attached to the damage caused by the flooding in Maxwell, officials did say that they expected it would be significant.

“I haven’t gotten around to see everything yet, but I do expect that the damage will be substantial,” District 5 Supervisor and Board Chair Gary Evans said during a recess at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Cohen said on Tuesday afternoon that he was aware of about a dozen residential properties, including his own, where water actually flooded the inside of houses – but added that the number could end up being higher.

“We ended up evacuating between 150 and 200 people on Saturday morning. We have a little over 400 houses in town, and I’d say about a third of that got evacuated. It was definitely a significant amount of damage to the town – even if 25 percent of town was flooded, that’s 100 residences that experienced some flooding. Even if the water didn’t get into all those houses, there is still going to be some damage to property,” Cohen explained.

Even where homes narrowly escaped flood damage, many of the cars parked outside in the flooded streets were rendered inoperable, including the majority of the vehicles at the Maxwell Mobile Home and RV Park, Morris said.

“As we were leaving, everyone’s car lights in the park were going off and on. It got up to probably my dashboard in the car, from what I can see inside. My car is toast,” Morris said. “I don’t know now, long term, what’s going to happen. I’m getting on computer here soon and going to fill out a FEMA application. I have no way to get to work, and they’re being really understanding. Today was just spent making phone calls, and it’s just been hurry up and wait. It’s just nuts.”

Maxwell resident Kristi Hill said that the flood water stopped at her front steps, but that her car was damaged on Saturday.

Businesses including HydroAg, Kim’s Country Cafe, Jesse Troughton Auto Repair, Davies Brothers Chevron, and Caldwell’s Mini Mart also experienced serious flooding. Other properties damaged by the floods included Maxwell Elementary and the Sheriff’s Office Substation/Sites Joint Powers Authority Building.

Kim Troughton, who did not have flood insurance for her business, said that the water inside her restaurant was knee-deep at one point, and estimates that it will take about $9,000 to get her cafe back up and running. She said that her husband’s automotive repair shop up the street was under nearly four feet of water at one point, and endured between $15,000 and $20,000 in losses as a result of the flood.

On Sunday, Troughton said that she was numb over the loss. On Monday, she said that everything began to hit her, but it wasn’t necessarily the loss that struck her – it was the community’s support. Just six hours after setting up a GoFundMe page, the community had raised more than $2,000 to help get her back on her feet.

Supes declare emergency,
get updates from Sheriff, Public works

Supes ratify Garofalo’s Declaration of Emergency, issue own declaration, forward request for declaration from Gov. Brown

As a result of the floods, Garofalo issued a Declaration of Emergency, which was ratified by the Colusa County Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday meeting. The board also issued their own emergency declaration, and voted unanimously to forward a request for a gubernatioral declaration.

Garofalo told the board that the situation in Maxwell and Williams had cost the county about $25,000, not including overtime for staff.

Garofalo also gave the board an update on the general condition of the county’s waterways and flood control infrastructure. He noted that there were a number of seepage issues across the county, which were not necessarily cause for alarm and  are “very common during periods of high water.

“Geographically, we had some issues with seepage in the Princeton area. There were some pumps being utilized there. Going down along the Sacramento River, there is some seepage (in the) Packer Road area, and there’s an issue along the Sacramento River at Wilson Bend, near Grimes. They’ve been working on that for a week and a half, maybe a little bit longer,” Garofalo said.

“Going along the 2047 canal… there has been some sloughing in the Abel Road area, where the canal intersects. They were called out on Sunday, and the (Department of Water Resources) has been monitoring that. It’s an area of concern that they have known about in the past, so they are closely monitoring that. Early this morning, at about 2:30 a.m., there was some reports of a breach of the levee along the 2047 canal near Harvest Road… We’ve been monitoring that… We haven’t been able to confirm the breach in the levee, but there is substantial water in the Jameson/Harbison Road area… It seems to be following a southeasterly direction. We made notifications along Harbison Road. Luckily, there are very few residents in that area.”

Moving forward, Garofalo said that the county would be dealing with high river levels for at least the next two weeks. While the outflows from Shasta Dam have been drawn down to the minimum outflow – between 18,000 and 20,000 cubic feet per second – and the river level near Colusa has been gradually dropping, they would climb back up soon.

“They are taking in a substantial amount of water. They guess that Shasta Lake will rise about seven feet, from yesterday to today from that last rain,” Garofalo said. “Come Thursday, they are going to pump the outflow back up to about 80,000 cfs. So we’re going to see high river levels for I’m guessing at least two weeks. It’s supposed to get down to about 67 feet (at the Colusa Bridge) by Friday. It’s slowly creeping down now, but we’re going to see high river flows for a while.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net