Riverside County supervisors voted today to establish a five-way governing board to oversee modifications along Murrieta Creek to prevent a repeat of a disastrous flood along the waterway almost 20 years ago.
"This (project) will provide the important public safety infrastructure we need in southwest Riverside County," said Supervisor Jeff Stone, whose district encompasses the area. "We're due for a big flood."
Stone's resolution to form a Murrieta Creek Joint Powers Authority was approved in a 4-0 vote; Supervisor Marion Ashley was absent.
The JPA would include representatives from the county and the cities of Murrieta, Temecula and Wildomar, as well as officials from the county Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
Each of the cities has to individually pass a resolution agreeing to participate in the JPA, the purpose of which would be to prioritize and manage planned improvements along a seven-mile stretch of the creek that traverses both Murrieta and Temecula.
In mid-January 1993, several days of heavy rains caused the creek to overflow, flooding surrounding homes and businesses, resulting in fatalities and roughly $100 million in damage.
"There was four feet of water in Old Town (Temecula)," Stone recalled. "There was anger and angst in the community because the federal government had not allowed us to go into the creek and remove growth and debris that caused dams to form. That's why it overflowed."
Following the flood, federal officials permitted debris removal and also drew up a four-phase plan to dredge and widen the channel to prevent a similar occurrence, Stone said. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to proceed with the $55 million project for lack of funding.
"Residents in Temecula and Murrieta have properties that are technically in a flood plain. They're paying exorbitant taxes to FEMA every year," Stone said, noting that despite the money going into federal coffers, Congress is not allocating funds for creek improvements.
The supervisor said the federal government previously committed to covering 65 percent of the project costs.
In the last decade, only a half-mile portion of the creek's downstream end has been fortified.
"Phases two and three are critical to abating a natural disaster," Stone said.
He said the Flood Control and Water Conservation District has $32 million in taxpayer funds set aside for creek improvements, and there's no time to waste putting the money to work.
Meadowbrook resident Gary Grant objected to spending "millions of dollars" to protect homes and businesses that were knowingly constructed in a flood plain.
"If you build there, that's what happens," Grant said. "At least I had the common sense to live an area that wouldn't get flooded."
If created, the Murrieta Creek Joint Powers Authority would decide how to acquire additional funding for the project, which would take around seven to 10 years to complete. Stone said the goal is to begin soliciting bids from contractors to work on creek upgrades by no later than the middle of 2013.
A draft JPA agreement will be drawn up by the Office of County Counsel after the cities of Murrieta, Temecula and Wildomar pass their own resolutions, according to Stone.
—City News Service