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Flooding becoming more intense in Paradise, town working to reduce chance of disaster

Paradise sign
Paradise sign

Public works officials say some flooding is an inevitable part of life in Paradise.

In the aftermath of the 2018 Camp Fire, the area has less vegetation, making flash floods more likely.

But ongoing work should help mitigate the risk.

Paradise Public Works Director Marc Mattox told the town council Tuesday that the stormwater system urgently needs attention.

“This presentation really stemmed from our September 29th forecasted rain event that exceeded expectations quite greatly,” Mattox said.

That day saw a once-in-a-hundred years storm event in Paradise, causing stormwater run-off on several properties and some flash flooding.

As the climate changes, 100-year storm events become more common in Butte County.

“When I say a hundred year rainfall event that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen once in a hundred years,” Mattox said. “It’s gonna mean if you roll a hundred side [dice] … there’s a one in a hundred chance you’re going to get that. But what we’re seeing is … that it seems like the die has less sides to it.”

The town’s 2022 Emergency Operations Plan indicates stormwater flood events will likely impact more than half of the community in the coming years.

The plan also predicts heavy storms could cause “critical” damage.

The town is currently pursuing a Storm Drainage Master Plan to improve its stormwater drainage system. The last time such a plan was introduced was in the ‘80s.

Since then, pipes have aged, the town has developed, and the Camp Fire has destroyed or damaged many parts of the system.

But Jackson Webster, an associate professor of civil engineering at Chico State, said small, rural towns don’t generally have the money to upgrade their stormwater systems for 100-year storm events.

“To be honest, there are other things like sewer collection systems, like drinking water systems … they're also in need of repair,” Webster said. “It's a matter of prioritizing resources.”

The Camp Fire damaged many of these ailing systems. But since then, federal and state recovery grants have helped Paradise rebuild more resiliently.

For example, Mattox said, more progress has been made in the last two years on the stormwater system than in the last 40 years put together.

The town won’t prevent flooding entirely, he said, but these major projects could mitigate future disasters.

Jamie was NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covered all things fire, but her main focus was wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as a podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.