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Federal officials tour flood damage as San Diego asks for help

Erik Rodriguez’s broccoli had bloomed bigger than a Valentine’s Day bouquet.

His celery was long and firm and a radish rivaled a baseball in size. Rodriguez used a knife to cut it open, revealing bright, shiny flesh.

The recent floods forced everything to be thrown away.

“I’m just tired of starting over,” he said.

Rodriguez, 44, co-runs Pixca Farm, one of several locations in the Tijuana River Valley that lost crops after last month’s historic storm.

Federal officials are currently evaluating whether they can help.

U.S. Department of Agriculture leaders visited several areas of the county Monday afternoon, including Pixca, to consider providing aid that could help small farmers and people living along waterways.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres and other officials tour flood-damaged neighborhoods in San Diego.

(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego city officials have taken particular interest in the department’s Emergency Watershed Protection program, which can help with everything from removing debris from streams to planting vegetation to stop erosion.

The initiative cannot reimburse work already underway but can help fund future efforts. If approved, the money could arrive within weeks, according to Carlos Suarez, a state environmental advocate and Department of Agriculture official.

“From what I see,” he told reporters near the Chollas Creek watershed, “it certainly has the characteristics of a site that could benefit from funding.”

Xochitl Torres Small, deputy secretary of Agriculture, was one of several federal leaders to meet with local officials, including Todd Snyder, director of San Diego’s stormwater department.

The group started near the city’s Southcrest neighborhood.

This area was particularly affected on January 22. On Monday, the Chollas Canal was full of mud. The wind rippled puddles of stagnant water. Some metal poles near Southcrest Park were completely bent while others were frozen at a 45-degree angle, as if stretched beneath an invisible wave.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres, along with other officials, tours the flood-damaged Mountain View neighborhood.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres and other officials toured San Diego’s flood-damaged Mountain View neighborhood Monday.

(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Farther west, at the intersection of Beta and Birch streets, the roads sometimes seemed more dirt than asphalt. Caution tape blocked off a house. Plastic covered another’s entrance. Dumpsters lined the sidewalks and metal clanged as men filled them with debris.

Just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said hundreds of people had planted food and flowers in the Tijuana River Valley Community Garden, but at least two farmers had recently left the area.

The land floods about once a year, according to Ann Baldridge, executive director of the Greater San Diego County Resource Conservation District. She explained that the region can go years between destructive rains.

Leaders have, among other issues, pointed to climate change and aging infrastructure.

Rodriguez, from Pixca, is now waiting for the ground to dry so he can dig out his damaged vegetables. (Farmers are supposed to throw away any food from flooded soils, because the water can contain a range of contaminants.)

In the meantime, he’s tinkering with two generators and a tiller that were also damaged by the storm.

“I literally want to grow food and feed people,” he said.

California Daily Newspapers

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