The letter, issued Friday, cites a series of “powerful winter storms” beginning Jan. 3 and lasting nine days that brought “relentless heavy precipitation and high winds that caused flash flooding, debris and mud flows, erosion, power outages, and damage to critical infrastructure.” The storms resulted in eight deaths in seven counties.
“The impacts associated with this series of storms were substantial and widespread, devastating much of California,” the letter adds.
A disaster declaration frees up federal funds to help pay for damage. Presidents usually respond positively to such requests, but Trump is an unconventional commander-in-chief. Last week, he called California “out of control” ― though he didn’t explain exactly what he meant. Trump also threatened to block federal funds if California goes ahead with plans to become a sanctuary state for immigrants.
Brown has already declared a state emergency in 49 counties.
Most of the damage has occurred to roads, bridges, dams and water control and filtration systems, according to Brown’s letter, which estimates damages of $162 million for the January storms. Bad weather is continuing to wallop California this month.
On Friday, the state’s second-largest reservoir was at 99 percent capacity and threatening to burst its banks after officials cut down use of the Oroville Dam’s seriously damaged concrete spillway, which is supposed to divert excess water. The eroded spillway continued to deteriorate under a chaotic rush of water that was washing away ground dangerously close to power lines and threatening to flood communities downstream, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The region, located about 70 miles north of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, has been pelted with up to 20 inches of rain in the past three days. Officials were hoping that an emergency spillway could fill in for the crippled spillway if it comes to that. The spillway hasn’t been used once since the earthen dam was built 48 years ago.
This could be Northern California’s wettest season ever, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The average annual rainfall in the region is 50 inches. On Friday it hit 67.4 inches of precipitation and was still trending up. The 1982-83 wet season produced 88.5 inches, but this year could still surpass that record.