Video: Nasty Flash Flood Hits Ocotillo Express Wind

Driving up a road with more than a foot of floodwater | Photo:Jim Pelley

A flash flood hit the southern portion of the Ocotillo Express Wind facility in Imperial County Sunday night, tearing up gravel access roads and dumping enough debris onto State Route 98 that the road had to be closed for a time.

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According to Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley, the flood happened after a brief storm in the uplands to the west of the project. "It was just an hour-long storm," Pelley told ReWire. 'We have a long history of huge storms here: the area's been designated by FEMA as a floodplain. Every few years we get downpours that last a week. This wasn't one of those. Just an hour-long storm."

There have been no reports of damage to any of the wind turbines. A query on damage from ReWire to Ocotillo Express Wind's operator Pattern Energy was not returned by the time we went to press.

Pelley suggests that the wind facility's new network of unpaved access roads throughout the Ocotillo area may have disrupted the desert's natural drainage patterns, concentrating flood waters into the roadways. It certainly seems that way from the video below. Pelley and his spouse were traveling on gravel access roads in the project's southern reaches when the flood caught up with them in rather dramatic fashion. Note: The video contains a small bit of language that is Not Safe For Work, though it's far tamer than language ReWire would probably use in the same situation. (There's also an inadvertent product endorsement that's the opinion of the videographer, and not that of ReWire or KCETLink.)

According to Pelley, the flood disgorged enough debris onto the surface of Route 98, the Yuha Cutoff, that the road had to be closed for a time Sunday night. "Wood, rocks, gravel, tree branches, cacti, there was all kinds of debris," Pelley said.

Though he pointed a finger at road construction as possibly concentrating the flood waters more than they would have been, Pelley was quick to point out that he wasn't saying the flood was the fault of Ocotillo Express or Pattern Energy. "I would never say Ocotillo Express caused the flood. I just think they may have made it worse, by altering the hydrology of the desert here."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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