Thursday, July 24, 2008

eagle canyon

by Guy McCarthy

CATHEDRAL CITY - Residents of a trailer park below Eagle Canyon who got mud-slammed by a flash flood on Sunday said government officials have been aware of the dangers for decades.

They were right.

County flood control archives in Riverside include a 1982 master drainage plan for the Palm Springs area with maps of Cathedral City and discussion of a recommended "Eagle Retention and Debris Basin."

"The presently undeveloped watershed of 1.75 square miles produces a controlling 100 year, 6 hour storm peak of 1180 cfs," the report notes.

In layman's terms this means that when it rains hard on the Santa Rosa Mountains south of Cathedral City, a lot of water, mud and rock can come out of Eagle Canyon at high speeds - up to 1,180 cubic feet per second in a rare and prolonged event.

The rain cells that marched across the Coachella Valley between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Sunday were nowhere near a 100-year storm. In prepared notes for a press conference on Monday, Cathedral City Mayor Kathleen DeRosa called it a "minor event - no more than a five-year storm in a very localized area."

Nonetheless, the sudden, pounding rains unleashed torrents of fast-moving water and mobilized tons of material in Eagle Canyon - including refuse that has been dumped there illegally. The flash flood also "pushed tons of dirt from a construction site into south portions of the city, flooding a trailer park and an auto dealership, along with 15 to 20 other businesses," according to the National Weather Service.

Portions of the 1982 maps placed side-by-side show a trailer park below Eagle Canyon and south of State Highway 111. They also show a trailer park on the north side of the 111, where Tramview Mobile Home Park stands today.

As reported here earlier this week, many Tramview residents were livid Monday as they struggled to clear mud and water out of their homes. They blamed city officials for knowing about the flood threat, and for talking about it but taking no action.

They also blamed the city for failing to maintain the site where the old trailer park across the street used to be. That is apparently where the tons of construction site dirt cited by the Weather Service came from.

At the Monday press conference, DeRosa called the sudden storms on Sunday "an act of God" and said the debris that came down to Tramview came from Eagle Canyon. When told that some residents said dirt on the former trailer park site was what hit their community, DeRosa said Cathedral City had maintained the site to code since the demolition.

"I can't tell where that dirt came from," DeRosa said. "Dirt is dirt . . . At the end of the day it doesn't make any difference whose dirt it is. They're upset and they have every right to be."

A flood control dam in Eagle Canyon would cost $28 million at current estimates, said Cathedral City communications director Allen Howe.

Whether city officials can convince county, state and federal authorities to pay for such a structure remains to be seen. In the meantime, Sunday's flash floods exposed a recurring theme in local land use oversight and developers' decisions.

Sometimes governments give the green light to build in high fire hazard areas or floodplains first, then wait for foreseeable disasters to prove that somebody needs to pay for protection.

The questions raised have also been asked before - who is accountable for the present situation, and who should pay?


More photos at

map details

flood aftermath

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