Flood Fighters are Born

One of the primary purposes of the California Conservation Corps is to have hand crews available for rapid response to emergencies throughout the state. As the fall rains come, signaling the end of the disastrous 2017 fire season, we are reminded that natural disasters can occur at any time of the year in California. With the rains come the threat of flooding.

California Conservation Corps crews around the north state have begun flood response training. Seven crews involving about 100 Corpsmembers from Redding, Chico, and Yreka assembled at a Redding CalTrans maintenance yard on November 16 to learn the essentials of filling, moving, and laying sandbags. The crews rotated around five different work stations to lean each of five essential skills to flood fighting.

There is more to sandbagging than you might think. The sandbags must not be filled too much, or they will not fit together snugly to build waterproofs walls. It might look easy to carry one of these properly filled sandbags a few yards, but when the demand is for thousands of sandbags to be moved as quickly as possible, and over a twelve-hour shift in the rain and wind, there are proper techniques to learn which will prevent injuries and keep Corpsmembers going through those long hours.


































Corpsmembers also learned what to do with those sandbags once the sandbags arrived at the worksite. They learned how to stack them into solid walls. They learned how to build them up into rings and horseshoes to prevent leaks called ‘boils’ from becoming levy breaches.


The flood-fighters-in-training also learned how to lay sheets of plastic across a levy to protect the soil from the pounding of wind-driven waves. These sheets are secured with sandbags and a crisscross of string to hold the plastic securely in place, even in the event of seventy-mile-an-hour winds. In 1997, Corpsmembers working floods down in the Delta laid 300 feet of plastic to protect a section of levy on Bradford Island from waves building up over the two miles of open water across Frank’s Tract. Weather instruments on a nearby river barge indicated the wind speed exceeded 70 knots. The plastic wave wash protection lasted over six hours until the winds receded, and surely saved that section of levy from failure.

A key step in securing the plastic and sandbags is knowing how to attach the string to the plastic without letting the plastic rip, either when tying the string on, or by the howling winds pulling at the plastic once in place. The Department of Water Resources has developed a plastic button/frame combination that is the most efficient method for securing string to the plastic. One station in the day’s training was dedicated to learning the knots and methods for securing these buttons.

They also learned how to secure a building from rising waters with plastic and sandbags. Once the skills of laying sandbags and sheet plastic are learned, this is a simple process.

CCC centers in Ukiah and South Lake Tahoe also conducted flood training before the Thanksgiving holiday. Flood training just like this occurs at CCC centers all over the state. The CCC stands ready for any emergencies this winter.

The CCC is a work program for young adults from 18-25. They sign up for one year, and can extend to pursue promotion or opportunities in special programs like firefighting or Backcountry trails. The nature of the program means that most corpsmembers won’t be around for more than a year. Only a handful of these Corpsmembers were around during flood season last year. They filled sandbags and worked at the evacuation center on the Oroville Dam emergency. The nature of Corpsmember attrition makes these annual trainings necessary to keep the crews fully ready. The training was led by two experienced CCC staff members: C2 (Project Coordinator) Shawn Fry, and C1 (Crew Supervisor) Stacy Borowski. Stacy has worked on eight flood events going back to the massive 1997 flood response. Over twenty crews from all over California were staged at the former Delta Center in Stockton and spent weeks responding to widespread flooding throughout the Delta.

The Shasta-Cascade District crews have finished their summer projects for the year. Redding crews spent last summer camped out near Graeagle and Desolation Wilderness for long-term trails projects. Other Redding crews also responded to fires over the summer. One of those crews is a specialized fire crew that actually works on the fire lines. Other crews worked fire camp support in jobs such as supply and facilities maintenance. They will now spend the winter working closer to home with CalTrans landscape maintenance projects and various natural resource projects for various state and Federal agencies.

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