NORTH FORK — Senator Tom Berryhill visited Eastern Madera and Mariposa Counties today, to survey the wide-spread damage done by recent torrential rains.
The heavy downpours, coupled with massive tree mortality, have cause major damage all across his district, which stretches from Amador on the north to Tulare on the south.
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler was Berryhill’s guide through Coarsegold, Cedar Valley, Bass Lake and North Fork, and says either the senator or his office staff have been in touch almost daily, keeping abreast of the ever-changing situation.
“We’re seeing this kind of damage all through the Mother Lode, and the farther south you go, the worse it gets,” said Berryhill. “It needs to be a high priority for this state, and we have to put more money toward this problem. Tree mortality is a huge issue. Those trees used to help hold the water back. Now we’re seeing this massive flooding and runoff.”
During a stop along Church Street in North Fork where some residents have been under a mandatory evacuation order since Tuesday afternoon, Berryhill talked with neighbors and Madera County Sheriff’s deputies and Citizens on Patrol who have been monitoring the levels in Willow Creek and patrolling the areas where residents have been evacuated.
Berryhill said he has traveled through Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and down to Fresno, and the tree mortality and resulting flood damage is “biblical.”
When asked if the governor is doing enough to address the issue, Berryhill said he is doing some, but that more needs to be done.
“He understands the magnitude of the problem, but it’s a matter of dedicating the proper resources to fixing the problem,” he said. “We need both state and federal assistance. We’re looking ahead to this summer, and are concerned about something like a million acre fire here; it could happen.”
The senator recently visited Tuolumne County, and said that while it’s bad up there, the farther south one travels, the worse it gets.
“I think this is ground zero right here,” he said, looking up at the mountains swathed in red trees as the thunder announced the arrival of the next wet storm.
“We’ve been in drought for five years, and cataclysmic events like this just show that with the climate change we’re experiencing, we need more storage. At the end of the day, all this water’s going out to the ocean.”
With that the conversation turned to the Temperance Flat Dam project.
“It’s moving forward very slowly,” said Berryhill. “They could streamline the CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] process – which could be done without harming the environment – and get this done a lot faster. There are things we could do, and we should do. If we had more storage right now, we wouldn’t be having some of the problems we’re having. We need enough storage for agriculture and for people too.”
The Temperance Flat Dam is planned between Millerton Lake and Kerkoff Reservoir, and Berryhill says it’s 10 to 15 years out from moving any dirt.
After the visit to North Fork, Berryhill and Wheeler headed down Road 200 to check the status of the mud and debris slides near Fine Gold Creek, which are likely to create new problems for motorists as a new round of storms moves in.