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Preventing Flooding from Levee Breaches in the Central Valley

Thousands of miles of canals stretch through the Central Valley. Rodents and other animals digging through walls are the top cause of levee breaches, like the one that happened Sunday near Minkler that sent water gushing into homes and across Highway 180. Although personnel check structures often, flooding is always a possibility for those living nearby.

Thousands of miles of canals wind through the Central Valley near homes, throughout the city, and in the countryside.

The Friant-Kern Canal is one of the major systems.

About 152 miles stretch from north of Fresno down to Bakersfield.

"If there was a system like the Friant-Kern Canal that was to break and was adjacent to some cities, it could create havoc," says Mario Santoyo with the Friant Water Authority.

Santoyo says there hasn't been any breaches of that waterway.

He says alarms monitor water levels so personnel can adjust water flows and avoid flooding.

"In addition to electronic equipment that we have out there monitoring the water levels and the status of the gates and all of that, we send patrols," Santoyo says.

Daily, inspectors look for rodents and other animals that can damage canals. Santoyo says this is the main cause of levee breaches, just like what happened Sunday near Minkler when water gushed from a canal to nearby homes and across Highway 180.

"This was not a location that you would've expected this to happen," says Chris Kapheim, general manager with the Alta Irrigation District, which manages that levee.

Kapheim says the break was unexpected because the canal is lined with concrete instead of dirt.

He suspects wild pigs dug under the concrete and weakened the structure enough to create a large hole.

Several irrigation districts manage the different waterways that provide water to cities and farmers around the Central Valley.

Even when canals are maintained well, there's always a possibility of flooding. For those who live in flood risk area, purchasing flood insurance is important.

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