By Gene Tanaka
Beginning the afternoon of April 3, 2006 and continuing through the next, the rains came to Merced County. They were unprecedented. For a six-hour period in the worst hit area, the rainfall was a one-in-445-year event, and for a 12-hour period, the rainfall was a one-in-113-year event. Nevertheless, for 12 hours, the creeks and canals handled the storm flows, which caused the water levels to rise from 157 feet above sea level to more than 164 feet above sea level. But on April 4, at approximately 7:30 a.m., after more than five hours of overtopping, the levee on one of the canals washed out and the waters flooded an adjacent neighborhood.
By September 2007, more than 2,000 residents of the adjacent neighborhood sued the Merced Irrigation District and the City of Merced and Merced County. Together, these public agencies were an informal group called the Merced Streams Group that, for many years, worked together to maintain the streams and canals so that they would not flood adjacent properties and, also, carry irrigation water. After approximately 200 depositions, dozens of experts and more than four years of litigation, the City settled for less than it would have cost to try the case. This experience highlights the complexity of flood cases and the breadth of the laws governing liability for flood control facilities.
Click here to read the entire article, published in the November/December 2015 issue of Municipal Lawyer, a bimonthly magazine offered by the International Municipal Lawyers Association.