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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Campus Prepares for Rainy Season


Staff plans ahead, prepares infrastructure for storms

In Davis, November usually brings the first significant rains of the season. Residents will have to adjust by digging out their raincoats and umbrellas, by crowding the Unitrans buses and by buying bike fenders to avoid the “freshman stripe.” But when rain turns into intense storms, everyone on campus relies on infrastructure to prevent damage and disruption to their campus routines.

While much of this infrastructure might be invisible to students, there are dedicated teams of staff who work hard to plan ahead in anticipation of this year’s storms. When the forecast calls for heavy rains, many of these staff members will meet to coordinate the best course of action.

“Normally, when we know the storm is coming, we have a big meeting involving all the different folks,” said Michael Fan, the director of UC Davis Utilities. “There’s the facilities people that deal with flooding inside buildings and utilities […] and we also meet with the campus Emergency Operations Center. We all sit in the same room to plan, so we know that if something happens, if a really big one comes, we are ready.”

Fan knows the importance of planning ahead, and he and the other groups of staff who prepare for storms are well-equipped to allocate resources effectively.

“I think the key is before the storm, in the planning stages […] I’ve been here on campus for 20 years, so I know where the vulnerabilities and the flooding situations are,” Fan said.  “Campus is designed for certain stormwater levels.”

The utilities unit works with several other campus groups and systems. For example, the Arboretum waterway serves an important purpose during storms, functioning as the ultimate destination for runoff water from around campus.

“When the storms come, we’ll keep the water level lower at the Arboretum waterway, because all the runoff is coming to the waterway,” Fan said. “If that level is too high, the water is gonna back up to whatever the drainage system is.”

Because of its importance during storms, the Arboretum itself needs to be prepared for the rainy season, both in terms of the current construction and routine maintenance.

“All the work inside the channel is completed for this phase, so the rains won’t impact us,” said Andrew Fulks, the assistant director of the Arboretum. “[The waterway] is designed and managed to handle any of the storms we get here […] We prune dead limbs off of trees, make sure storm drains are clear of leaves and pick them up as they come down, cover bare dirt with mulch to prevent erosion. For the waterway, we install absorbent ‘socks’ at each storm drain, to catch any oils that run off the road after the first rains.”

Utilities also coordinates with Grounds and Landscape Services. The grounds crew is often some of the first people on campus in the morning, and they are often some of the first people to respond to damage from a storm.

“In terms of big storms, the first thing we do is come in and check the campus to make sure that it’s safe,” said Cary Avery, the associate director of Grounds and Landscape Services. “We make sure that there’s nothing blocking streets or sidewalks or anything, make sure no limbs have fallen down, we make sure the drains are all clear, and then we basically go through the campus and make sure all walks, roads and building entries are safe and clear.”
Last winter, UC Davis experienced some particularly intense wind and sustained rainfall. The La Rue bike underpass flooded and several trees fell.

“Well, last year was certainly challenging,” Avery said. “What happens is the more rain we get, some of the evergreen trees, they tend to hold a lot of water, and those trees are more susceptible to breaking out with heavy rain. Those are some of the things I’m talking about where we know that we have issues, and we kind of keep an eye on that stuff.”

Despite the challenges presented by storms like those last winter, Fan says that the campus was still prepared.

“Last year the amount of rainfall was huge […] but actually last year, there was actually the least amount of flooding damage,” Fan said. “Part of it is that we’re really used to these planning efforts, to get all the people from different expertises sitting in the same room, to prepare us ahead of time […] the amount of rain actually increased, but I was surprised to see that the amount of flooding was way less.”

For Fan, it’s important for people to know that UC Davis is well prepared for storms, and that groups like the utilities unit are there to help.

“I’d highly encourage people to call us, anytime they see anything stormwater related,” Fan said. “Over the years I’ve been here, I’ve gotten calls from students about dropping skateboards into the water intake, or their lunch or their iPhone […] we have good systems here.”


Written by: Gabriel Mulcaire — features@theaggie.org



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