By Karen Brainard
Several Ramona property owners learned what they can legally do on their own land to alleviate flooding from representatives of environmental agencies at a meeting on May 18 hosted by County Supervisor Dianne Jacob in her El Cajon office.
They learned there isn’t much they can do without a permit.
The property owners from the Kelly and Letton street area have complained of increased flooding on their lots over the years, sometimes as deep as three to four feet, during heavy rains. With a watercourse running through the properties that has accumulated debris, silt and vegetation, owners want to clean out the watercourse as a short-term drainage fix, but have feared they will violate environmental regulations.
“They want to do the right thing,” Jacob told representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, California State Fish and Game, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The owners learned they can hand-pick trash and debris from the watercourse or drainage area on their property, but beyond that, explanations and descriptions became muddied, prompting Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva to request the agencies develop a list of “do’s and don’ts.”
A shovel or backhoe could be used to remove debris, preferably from the banks, but they cannot push or drag material, an Army Corps representative said. In that case, a permit would be needed.
“If you have machinery pushing material, for us that would trigger a need for a permit,” the Army Corps representative said.
Application for a permit could take three months, according to Fish and Game.
Taking a grocery cart out of a culvert would not be an issue, Doreen Stadtlander from Fish and Wildlife said.
“But when you do start moving material around, possibly changing the hydrology of an area like a stream course or vernal pool…that’s when you really do need to contact Fish and Wildlife service or the county,” she said.
The property owners asked how they can identify a vernal pool, a contained depression in the ground that seasonally fills with water and provides habitat for numerous rare plants and animals. Vernal pools are considered a threatened ecosystem.
Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva, left, holds a map of downtown Ramona as Ken Brazell with the county Department of Public Works, right, talks about identified flood projects at a meeting in Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office. Seated are Kristi Mansolf, planning group secretary, and Ramona property owners affected by flooding. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard
Ken Brazell with the land development division of the county’s Department of Public Works said he has maps of vernal pools in Ramona. He also said residents have thrown cut shrubs into vernal pools, and that is unacceptable.
To identify a vernal pool is not easy for a lay person, Stadtlander said.
Jacob said her constituents do not have time to look at maps of vernal pools or pictures of endangered or sensitive species such as the fairy shrimp or arroyo toad.
“If the process becomes too difficult, too onerous, too complex to the average person, when it comes right down to it, they’re going to go out and do what needs to be done,” said Jacob. “And I will be standing by their side in supporting them, even if we have to go to court on it.
“I’m just being gut-level honest with you. So we need to work with you, we need help from you. But, on the other hand, understand if this process becomes so complex, people are going to do just what they think is right and use common sense to protect life and family, property and family.”
Kelly Fisher from Fish and Game said she would be willing to visit the properties and give advice.
About six property owners were at the meeting. Piva said more would have attended but had to work.
Jacob asked the representatives to explain the concerns of their respective agency and received the following responses: the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Army Corps of Engineers are concerned about the clean water act; Fish and Wildlife care about endangered species and migratory birds, and provide technical assistance to the Corps on clean water; and Fish and Game have regulatory authorization over alterations to streams and lakes.
Jacob also asked the representatives to prepare an information sheet with a list of do’s and don’ts for property owners who want to clear their drainage areas, and an agency contact list. She said the four agencies should be represented at a community workshop on flooding that the Ramona Community Planning Group will be hosting. No date has been set.
Cid Tesoro, flood control district manager from the Department of Public Works, said he would work with Piva on the workshop.
Afterward, property owner Dan Ruops thanked Jacob for hosting the meeting, saying, “I’m optimistic for the first time.”
Jerry Kathawa, another property owner, wasn’t so optimistic. He said water has been sitting on his property and he is being fined by the county. Kathawa said he has called the agencies before and didn’t think the meeting was very helpful other than putting the agencies in touch with each other.