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How LA is Prepping to Take This Winter's Monster El Niño

Image via <a href="">Veronica Jauriqui</a> / <a href="">Curbed LA flickr pool</a>
Image via Veronica Jauriqui / Curbed LA flickr pool

With a powerful El Niño forecast for the coming winter, drought-ridden Southern California is looking forward to a few very wet months. But there's also a lot of nervousness and caution in the mix, as city agencies warn of the flooding, mudslides, and general atmosphere of chaos that might come along with all that water. Back in July, the Los Angeles City Council asked several city departments to report back on exactly what they are doing to get ready for a potentially busy and soggy winter; that report was delivered last week with tons of details on how LA is prepping.

The report from the city's Emergency Management Department gives an overview of what a number of city agencies have done in order to prepare for the coming winter's predicted El Niño. (The EMD is in charge of the city's planning, training, response, and recovery efforts in the time leading up to, during, and after any kind of disaster in LA.)

According to the EMD's rundown, the LA Fire Department will be setting up and taking charge of the city's Emergency Operations Center—a centralized place for public information and resource coordination that will be activated right before the first El Niño storms show up.

The fire department is also partnering with the Bureau of Engineering to watch areas that were burned by recent wildfires so they can anticipate which areas might be in danger of "debris flow" during a storm. The department's also stockpiling sand and sandbags, and anticipates doling out 200,000 sandbags and 50 tons of sand at "strategic locations" throughout LA.

The EMD itself has focused on getting the word out on preparedness for the storm. They've also established several "all-hazards" alert systems that, in the event of a major storm, will help keep the public up-to-date:

Many of these (with the exception of the alerts that come through automatically on your cell phone) require that people sign up for something (Notify LA, Twitter) or go to a website, meaning that people will have to know about these services in order to get them, which could be a hurdle to their effectiveness.

The Bureau of Street Services is getting ready for big storms by preparing to send K-rails out to mudslide-prone areas or those where debris from fires is expected to be carried by heavy rain. They'll be the ones setting up street barricades and will generally have extra crews on hand to deal with wet weather issues on the streets as they present themselves.

The Department of Recreation and Parks will take the lead when it comes to evacuation shelters, and they're busy at work picking out sites that would be most helpful to people in potential flood areas. On Parks properties that have flooded in the past (like parts of Griffith Park), Rec and Parks is setting up barriers of sandbags and K-rails.

The Bureau of Sanitation's cleaning schedule and progress updates

In their update to the City Council, the Bureau of Sanitation says that, "within the limitations" of LA's current storm- and wastewater system, they're prepared. A lot of what they do to get ready for a big storm happens in the dry season, and that upkeep's right on target, as the above chart demonstrates. However, since this El Niño has the potential to be a biggie, they've made additional contingency plans for certain trouble spots. For example, to prevent sewer system "overflow" during a large storm at "choke points" near the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and the Los Angeles Glendale Water Reclamation Plant, big tanks have been built specifically to contain the overflow and keep it from spilling out downstream (ew!).

Also, in the interest of road safety, if there's a heavy and continuous rain or mudslide danger, the Bureau might delay trash collection for a day in some areas. They've set up a Customer Care Center (as of October 2015) that will be able to alert customers to changes in pickup and to the rescheduled collection day. The call to stop trash pick-up wouldn't be made until about 72 hours before a major storm or later, "possibly even during the storm itself," says the LA Times. The thinking is that delaying pickups would keep cans off the curb, so they won't block the water flow or be at risk of tipping over and dropping drain-clogging junk into the street to create puddling or flooding.

The Bureau of Sanitation does face a few "challenges," though. There are more than 400 sites in the city that have an "undersized" drainage system and whose capacity needs to be increased in order to avoid flooding; the Bureau doesn't have the cash to actually do that right now. Also, despite all their preparatory efforts, some localized flooding in low-lying areas should probably be expected because the storm is likely to dump more water on the city than the system's set up to handle. "Ponding," or the accumulation of rainwater into giant puddles in the gutters and streets is also to be expected, as the streets are part of the collection system and hold onto the water until the drains are able to accept it.

A look at what's been cleaned by the Bureau of Sanitation, according to council district:

LA's Department of Water and Power has been busily checking out and cleaning up its water-collecting facilities, like reservoirs and the LA Aqueduct, they say in their report to the City Council. They're working with the LA County Flood Control Department to maintain five spreading grounds, which are areas that collect stormwater and allow it to filter back into the groundwater basin, helping to control flooding as well as bank water for the future (not a bad idea after four drought years). Also helping LA hold onto more water are the recent earthquake retrofit on the Big Tujunga Dam; it can now hold its full capacity of water safely. LADWP is also at work on spreading grounds in the Valley that will capture more stormwater and put it back in the ground, meaning less water flowing through the streets.
· L.A. considers suspending trash pickup when heavy rainfall is forecast [LAT]
· There's a 95 Percent Chance SoCal is Getting Hit With a Huge El Niño This Winter [Curbed LA]
· What Do You Need to Know About El Niño? These 10 Things. [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles's Plan to Start Harvesting Its Rainwater [Curbed LA]
· LA County's Dams Can Now Withstand Serious Earthquakes [Curbed LA]