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El Niño Special Report: A Noozhawk partnership with Montecito Bank & Trust, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, Cox, Frank Schipper Construction Co, Servpro, and the American Red Cross
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Before Winter Storms Reach Santa Barbara County, Class Teaches Tips on Using Sandbags

California Conservation Corps helps Santa Maria residents get prepared for El Niño arrival and fight flooding

California Conservation Corps members demonstrate for Santa Maria residents how to use sandbags to build a structure to fend off flooding.
California Conservation Corps members demonstrate for Santa Maria residents how to use sandbags to build a structure to fend off flooding. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria resident Jackie Gotchal learned the art and science of using sandbags in the event of flooding, thanks to a special course put on Wednesday morning by the California Conservation Corps.

“Who knew? I thought you chucked them out there willy-nilly,” Gotchal said after hearing tips during the class at the Minami Community Center. “I didn’t realize.”

Approximately eight people showed up for the free course, where Bill Nolan, CCC crew supervisor, gave the residents instructions while CCC members filled and placed sandbags for demonstration.

Bags, he said, should be about one-third full.

“It doesn’t look like much,” he said.

Rather than tied, the end of the bag should be folded over. Once the bag is lying on the ground the folded flap should be away from the water. 

Sandbags should be overlapping with a goal of basically building a pyramid, he added.

“What becomes really critical is the stomping,” Nolan said, adding that walking across the bags helps compress the sand.

“You can’t stomp on them enough,” he added as CCC members walked across the layer of sandbags. “That’s really a big part of building this structure is stomping.”

When CCC members deploy to a flooded area, some members are assigned stomping duty as sandbag structures are constructed. 

“The more you stomp, the more it locks into place,” he said, likening it to “playing with sandbag Legos.”

Sandbags at the ends of the structures should be folded twice since they are at the weakest end of the pile. 

“It never hurts to add another bag,” he said. “It doesn’t have to look beautiful all the time.”  

Sandbag structures can be tailored to suit the needs of the situation, he added. They can be used to either hold back water or divert water.

“You can’t really do anything wrong about how you build your structure,” Nolan advised, adding it’s important to keep the flap away from the flow of water.

Since the CCC started in 1976, members have filled more than 3 million sandbags, according to the organization's website. 

California Conservation Corps supervisor Bill Nolan and crew members give out tips for effectively using sandbags to protect property. Click to view larger
California Conservation Corps supervisor Bill Nolan and crew members give out tips for effectively using sandbags to protect property.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Gotchal said she attended the class due to worries regarding forecasts calling for heavy El Niño rains this winter.

“I have an elderly mother and I needed to know in a quick efficient way how to best protect her house and my own,” she said.

She found the information available through the class valuable.

“There was so much information and I had no idea,” she said.

“I’m sure I would have built something that would have immediately gotten destroyed by the water because I had no idea what I was supposed to do.”

Before the rains arrive, Nolan said, residents should know where they can get sandbags and the sand.

“Once they know both of those things if they know they’re going to have issues on their property is to start stockpiling sandbags as soon as possible and even putting structures in place ahead time if they know the great problem areas,” he said. “That would be ideal.”

The City of Santa Maria hosted a flood fight course for its employees earlier this month with the CCC. Staff learned the most effective techniques needed to provide effective flood protection for city facility using expertise provided by CCC representatives.

In Santa Maria, sandbags are available for purchase at most hardware stores. Sand is provided at five locations in the city but residents and businesses must provide their own bags.

Additionally, Santa Barbara County provides up to 25 sandbags free of charge at its Flood Control shop, 912 West Foster Rd., Santa Maria. 

For a map of free sand locations, and a map depicting flood-prone areas within the city, visit the city website here.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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