SANTA ANA, Calif. — More than 200 community members gathered Nov. 6 to let their voices be heard on the proposed Santiago Creek flood-risk management project during a public meeting at the Orange County Conference Center in Santa Ana.
Leaders and subject-matter experts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles and Chicago districts joined officials with the Orange County Public Works and the City of Santa Ana to listen to community members’ concerns and answer their questions about the project.
Michael Padilla, senior project manager with the Chicago District, led the meeting, including the comment and question-and-answer sessions. This is the third public meeting he’s led on the topic this year.
The proposed Santiago Creek project, part of the Santa Ana River Mainstem flood-risk management project, would protect people and property from potential flooding in this highly urbanized tributary of the Santa Ana River downstream from Prado Dam. The project would target the area between the Interstate 5 freeway and the nearby Santa Ana River Mainstem confluence, specifically erosion and potentially failing bank protections.
Because the Santa Ana River Mainstem Project was originally authorized for construction in the 1980s, the current phase of the project is to update the 1988 design to reflect changes to the project area since that time and incorporate modernized engineering design process.
For the planning and design phase of this update, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters requested the Chicago District work in collaboration with the LA District on the analysis and design updates for the project — citing previous successful collaboration during the Westminster Flood-Risk Management study from 2017 to 2020.
“I’m excited we are bringing the talent and experience of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including the Chicago District, to work side by side with Orange County in this project with the objective of preserving the safety and protecting the lives of community members, as we work to reduce flood risk for all,” said Col. Andrew Baker, LA District commander, during the beginning of the meeting.
Col. Kenneth Rockwell, Chicago District commander, also attended and spoke at the meeting.
“The federal government’s goal here is to protect lives and to project property,” Rockwell said. “There is currently a risk of flooding in the area. We know this from the pictures you see on the wall back there – the floods of 1938 and 1969 that caused millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and killed more than a dozen people. More recently, the storms of 2005 and 2010 were near misses, highlighting the ever-present danger of flooding that could occur here again.
“Without proper flood-risk mitigation improvements,” Rockwell added, “Santiago Creek will flood again, and the results, once again, will be disastrous.”
But Rockwell stressed one big caveat to the project — community support.
“The federal government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot and will not execute any project in California without the express support and consent of a nonfederal state partner, in this case, Orange County.”
In its current form, the proposed project carries a number of community concerns, including how it might impact the existing natural beauty of the creek. Many of these concerns have found their way to Rep. Lou Correa of California’s 46th Congressional District.
Rockwell assured those gathered at the public meeting the Corps is working closely with Correa during this analysis.
“We in the Corps hear you,” Rockwell said. “We understand your concerns. We’re working with Congressman Correa and his staff, including a face-to-face meeting a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. We truly feel the Army Corps of Engineers can deliver a much-needed flood-risk reduction project to the people of Santa Ana, while simultaneously preserving the ecology and beauty of the area.”
Rockwell added that the Chicago team has been working diligently on updating the 37-year-old design, incorporating Correa’s recommendations, adding Engineering with Nature design and accounting for modern hydrology and climate change models.
“I’m confident that the result will both protect and please the community,” Rockwell said. “Congressman Correa’s and the Army Corps’ lockstep goal is to maintain as much of the current natural landscape as possible, while still addressing the significant flood risk that exists in the area.”