Flash floods impact multiple UCR buildings

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

Following record high temperatures during the first week of September, the remnants of Tropical Storm Norbert brought rain to many parts of the drought-stricken areas of Southern California. UC Riverside, a campus known for its hot climate, exhibited as much as one-and-a-half inch of rain within two hours on Monday, Sept. 7, which led to the flooding of four buildings on campus.

Colleen Stevenson, the head of collection maintenance for both Rivera and Orbach Library was first notified of the flooding when she arrived to work. “(The campus) literally looked like a hurricane had struck here,” she said. When she arrived at the Rivera Library, water had collected underneath several of the bookshelves in the basement.

Stevenson recounted that the accumulated water in the basement had “affected about 20 of our ranges.” The ranges, as Stevenson explained, are the aisles that are filled with books. The affected area was around 1000 to 1500 square feet.

Concerned about potential water damage to the books, the Rivera Library staff, including several student employees, were able to quickly load all of the books onto trucks. The staff continued to clean up by removing all of the shelving in the affected area and drying everything. Stevenson remarked that it was “very labor intensive, but (the employees) were able to complete all of (the cleaning) by the end of the day.” Stevenson emphasized that in the end, no books were damaged by the water.

Two fourth-year library student employees, Liliana Alaniz and Yesenia Salazar, were among the first to respond to the water in the basement. Alaniz remarked that, “Since I’ve had to deal with the floods previous times, I was like ‘Great.’” Alaniz continued, saying, “The way the shelves are, the water was underneath them.” When asked about her first impression of the flooding, Salazar said the flooding was, “More work — but something different!”

UCR Physical Plant, the department in charge of the maintenance of all facilities on campus,was also quick to respond to the unexpected deluge. Bob Slater, the superintendent of building services for UCR Physical Plant, said, “We had no prior warning other than the emergency calls to our homes requesting immediate assistance on campus.” The department had most of the water removed by the evening.

In addition to the Rivera Library, UCR Physical Plant responded to water flooding on the floors of the biological sciences and life sciences buildings, which needed wet carpet and drywall renovation. There was no electrical or structural damage to any of the buildings, and there were no specific structural compromises that allowed the water to enter. “The storm sewers servicing that part of campus were overwhelmed,” said Slater.

Historically speaking, flash floods have been an issue across Riverside during this season. “Cloudbursts of this magnitude are rare but do happen from time to time … however the affected areas were quickly cleaned and dried,” said Slater. He prefaced that the major cost of these floods is the labor that is needed to clean up the excess water. For example, the elevator shaft in the life sciences building had flood water which needed to be pumped, captured and treated as a hazardous material because it could have been contaminated by the elevator’s hydraulic oil.

Given concerns over future flood-related damage, UCR Director of Physical Plant Ken Mueller says collaborations with the office of the vice chancellor for finance and business operations will aim “to divert more water into the (water) retention basin in an effort to hold more water (and) relieve some of the load on the storm drain system. Mueller adds that this plan will work in correlation with the Chancellor Kim Wilcox’s plans to develop new facilities across campus.

UCPD, along with the environmental health and safety department, have emergency procedures, notification systems and other safety information that are utilized during emergency situations such as a flash flood.

 

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