Heading into next storm system, Sacramento region still recovering from last week

As a new round of wet weather arrives, the Sacramento region continues to deal with the impacts from last week’s heavy storms, even after having several days to dry out.

One of the most-drenched areas remains the American River Parkway, where recreational areas are submerged and the popular bike path is closed indefinitely. The parkway is designed to flood during heavy rain seasons, but it has been two decades since residents have seen such high water.

Based on state data, the American River on Friday reached its highest point since 1997 – 38.5 feet at the H Street bridge near California State University, Sacramento. Flows from Folsom and Nimbus dams exceeded 83,000 cubic feet per second, an unusually large amount of water as officials hustled to make room for massive amounts of melted snow from the Sierra Nevada.

Three storm systems are headed for the Sacramento region, starting Thursday and continuing into next week, according to the National Weather Service. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials do not believe these storms will force a similar rush of water into Folsom Lake.

“We are monitoring current conditions as always, but we are expecting a colder storm system with lower snow levels, and inflows into Folsom are not expected to dramatically increase,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Todd Plain.

The heavy flow down the American River last week hit county parks hard, damaging a footbridge, dumping mud on bike trails and depositing tree debris in parking lots. In some spots, where asphalt trails remain underwater, it is still not possible to determine if flooding caused damage, county Parks Director Jeff Leatherman said.

Most of the lower part of the American River Parkway near downtown Sacramento is still flooded, and Discovery Park may not open until late spring. The county this week began allowing restricted access to the parkway to give curious residents an opportunity to see the high water.

“A lot of people have moved to our community over the last decade and have never seen the river like this,” Leatherman said. “We have opened up some parking lots so they can get down and see the river.”

Water flooded the Ancil Hoffman and Campus Commons golf courses, parts of the Dry Creek Parkway and county parks in the Delta. The Ancil Hoffman course has since reopened.

Near Walnut Grove in the Delta, crews are working around the clock to shore up a damaged levee on Tyler Island. County officials lifted an evacuation notice Wednesday for the residents of the 20 or so homes on the agricultural tract, but returnees were advised to remain alert.

“They want to try and get (the repairs) done, hopefully before the impact of the next rain,” said Matt Robinson, a county water resources spokesman. The coming storm will be the patched levee’s first true stress test, according to a county press release.

While scattered showers began Wednesday, heavier rainfall was expected to hit Thursday, followed by another storm Friday. That system is expected to peter out over the weekend before a third storm hits Monday. The first two storms are expected to drop significant amounts of rain, but meteorologist Mike Kochasic said they’re weaker than last week’s systems.

On the American River, flows have dropped to pre-storm strength Wednesday from the season’s high Friday; it had fallen from 38.5 feet to 30 feet at the H Street bridge.

State data also show the rate of water flowing into Folsom Lake has decreased steadily. Flows into the reservoir peaked last week at a season high of 140,931 cubic feet per second, according to state data. They were hovering at less than 20,000 cfs Wednesday.

In Wilton, Robinson said “people are getting back to normal,” after evacuating or sheltering-in-place over the weekend due to flooding along the Cosumnes River.

Residents in nearby Point Pleasant were allowed to return Tuesday, three days after they received an evacuation advisory.

Robinson said he doesn’t expect the upcoming rain to hit the area as hard as it did last week, but nothing is definite.

“These levees have been pounded and the ground is soaked,” Robinson said. “We need residents to stay on alert whether you live near a levee or an area that’s been flooded before.”

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

Related stories from Sacramento Bee