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Oceano drainage project a success, help still needed at lagoon 

A recently completed drainage project aimed at limiting flooding on Highway 1 in Oceano proved successful during recent rains, but some Oceano residents say there's still work to be done.

click to enlarge BEFORE This image from Feb. 17, 2017, shows what flooding was like in Oceano before the recent completion of the Oceano Drainage Improvement Project. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GENARO DIAZ
  • Photo Courtesy Of Genaro Diaz
  • BEFORE This image from Feb. 17, 2017, shows what flooding was like in Oceano before the recent completion of the Oceano Drainage Improvement Project.
click to enlarge AFTER Due to the Oceano Drainage Improvement Project, Oceano didn't flood where it normally does after receiving about 1.8 inches of rain in less than 24 hours on Jan. 28, 2021. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GENARO DIAZ
  • Photo Courtesy Of Genaro Diaz
  • AFTER Due to the Oceano Drainage Improvement Project, Oceano didn't flood where it normally does after receiving about 1.8 inches of rain in less than 24 hours on Jan. 28, 2021.

The Oceano Drainage Improvement Project is aimed at minimizing the frequency and severity of flooding on high-traffic roads neighboring the intersection of Highway 1 and 13th Street. It's been in the works for years, and, according to Capital Projects Manager Genaro Diaz, improvements included the creation of crowns in the center of several roads to convey storm water away from streets and toward Arroyo Grande Creek.

Construction wrapped up in June 2020, but there wasn't enough rain to truly test the completed project until the last week of January, when several inches of rain hit SLO County over the course of about three days. Although it was complicated in terms of funding and interagency collaboration, Diaz said the Oceano Drainage Improvement Project proved itself to be a worthwhile effort.

"That project—you don't even know," Diaz told New Times with a laugh. "If it was a diving competition, that's like a 9.8 triple flip with no splash."

While the intersection of Highway 1 and 13th Street would have previously looked like a small pond after after a relatively small amount of rain in a day, the roads were completely clear after 2 inches in 24 hours on Jan. 28.

The impacts were even noticeable a few blocks down Highway 1 at Quintessa Coffee Roasters, where owner Jack Quint said the project led to significantly less water around his building, which has been the victim of severe flooding in the past.

"We still get a slight river in front of our building and a big buildup in front of Chacho's," Quint wrote in a message to New Times, "but having 13th and Front drain was a huge help so cars can still drive through. Big improvement!!"

While the drainage project was also supposed to reduce inflow to the Meadow Creek Lagoon, residents living near the lagoon still saw flooding.

Steve Cascarano has lived next to the lagoon on Juanita Avenue for 13 years, and he said his street floods after every shower. Then cars and off-roaders speed through the neighborhood to splash through puddles, pushing damaging levels of water into people's houses. This most recent storm was no different. Despite repeated calls to the county, Cascarano said it feels like nothing ever gets done. The county usually just closes the road to through traffic, and people drive past the signs anyway.

"We're a little forgotten area down here," he said.

But SLO County Public Works Deputy Director Kate Ballantyne said residents near the Meadow Creek Lagoon haven't been forgotten. It's just a complex problem that takes a lot of time and money to fix.

Land surrounding the Meadow Creek Lagoon is on a flood plain, located at the downstream end of a watershed that gets hit with drainage water from parts of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, and Oceano. The lagoon drains into the Arroyo Grande Creek, which drains into the Pacific Ocean. But the lagoon can't drain when there are high tides in the ocean, if water levels in the Arroyo Grande Creek are too high, or if the Arroyo Grande Creek hasn't breached a sand bar that separates it and the ocean.

The county is working on improvements to this area. The recently finished project on Highway 1 and 13th should help some, Ballantyne said, along with an improved drainage channel at the North Beach Campground that was completed a few years ago. More efforts are coming, too.

"We have been studying the Meadow Creek watershed and plan to start work this year to evaluate alternatives for the Meadow Creek Lagoon Restoration Project, Ballantyne wrote in a statement to New Times. "The purpose of this project will be to improve flood protection and habitat within the lagoon system. A contract for this project will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for approval on March 2, 2021." Δ

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