County plans Santa Ana River improvements

Orange County is planning to receive about $83.2 million in federal money over the next two years to fund watershed and flood-control projects, including the massive Santa Ana River Mainstem Project, county officials said.

While the president and Congress have already authorized $45.9 million for this fiscal year, another $37.3 million is slated for approval with the 2015 federal budget, according to a list of recommended projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Tuesday.

The bulk of that money — $42 million approved for this year, and $30.8 million recommended for 2015 — is designated for the Santa Ana River project, which Congress first approved in 1986.

The project will improve flood protection for communities along a 75-mile stretch of the river that passes through Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

As communities along the river have grown, a county website explains, existing flood-protection systems have grown less effective, with shrinking natural areas to absorb rainfall and decreasing reservoir capacity.

Among the spots to be improved are several dams and a degraded marsh at the mouth of the river, near the border of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.

So far, the project has cost about $1.8 billion. About $1 billion of that has been federal money through the Corps, while Orange County has contributed $575 million, according to county spokeswoman Jean Pasco.

The work is projected to complete in the early 2020s.

Two other much smaller projects were also pegged for funds in the Corps' list: a study to determine ways of stabilizing and restoring Aliso Creek and a study of flood damages in Westminster.

About $400,000 has been approved for the Aliso Creek Feasibility Study and another $717,000 is expected to be approved next year, bringing the total to about $1.1 million, Pasco said.

The Westminster Watershed Feasibility Study is one component of a larger study and was recommended for $752,000 in federal funding.

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