WESTMINSTER, California - Close to a half million people within the Westminster watershed could be affected by flood risk.


That is the number one reason the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago and Los Angeles districts, in partnership with Orange County Public Works, are collaborating on the Westminster/East Garden Grove Flood Risk Management Study - a proposed project they hope will reduce that risk.


The Corps released its findings about the study in a Draft Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report in October. A public comment period in regard to the reports is open through Dec. 3.


More than 100 community members attended two public meetings - one Nov. 7 in Westminster and the other Nov. 8 in Huntington Beach - to ask questions and get information about the proposed project.


The purpose of the study is to evaluate flood risk in the highly urbanized Westminster watershed in western Orange County, which is about 87 square miles and lies on a flat coastal plain. Cities in the watershed include Anaheim, Santa Ana, Stanton, Cypress, Garden Grove, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach.


"First and foremost, this is a really big deal," said Col. Aaron Reisinger, the Corps' Chicago District commander, during the Nov. 7 meeting in Westminster. "We know there's over 400,000 people and 40,000-plus structures within the Westminster watershed that would be directly impacted by flood risk, so that's what our objective is ... to come in and help reduce flood risk."


Features of the proposed project include modifying about 25 miles of drainage channels in the watershed to improve flow efficiency and capacity; widening an existing bottleneck at Warner Avenue and Huntington Harbour; replacing the tide gates on the East Garden Grove/Wintersburg Channel; and constructing a floodwall along a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway at Outer Bolsa Bay.


Reisinger highlighted the partnership needed to get the project into fruition, not just with the Corps, Orange County Public Works and its stakeholders, but most importantly, with community members living in the region.


"It's a real honor to be with you tonight, to hear your concerns, to make sure we're not missing anything," he said. "Now is the time (for us) to hear your voice."


Col. Aaron Barta, Los Angeles District commander, also emphasized the importance of partnerships and advocating on the community's behalf.


"This is a very important project, that we do a study and advocate (for you) on why we should invest in it ... to protect life and property," Barta said. "Our job is to help serve you."


During both meetings, community members asked questions about the project, including the length of time it would take from start to completion; changes in traffic flows; if flood designations would be changed to reduce flood insurance premiums for homeowners; what is the federal funding for the project; Orange County's share of the cost of the project; noise and vibrations during construction; environmental impacts to the Bolsa Bay and Bolsa Chica Basin and how those impacts would be mitigated; and how to look into ways of capturing storm water runoff, among other topics.


According to Shane Silsby, Public Works director for Orange County, the county's goal is two-fold: to protect life and property, and to try to reduce flood insurance premiums for homeowners.


"To achieve those two primary things, we need help from our partners in the federal government because this project - $1.5 billion - we cannot do that alone as a flood control district. It would take decades," Silsby said.


After the comment period closes, representatives with the Corps will address and evaluate all comments to see whether they have changed the agency's basic conclusions about the National Economic Development and Locally Preferred plans, said Mike Padilla, project manager for the study with the Corps' Chicago District.


The team will discuss results of the public and technical reviewers' comments with the Corps' Headquarters in Washington, D.C., during an Agency Decision Milestone in January 2019 to decide whether to proceed with the plans, Padilla said.


The final report will be submitted to the Corps' Headquarters in fall 2019, and Corps' representatives hope to have the report to Congress by spring 2020. If funds are appropriated by Congress, construction of the project could begin in 2022.


The draft feasibility report was completed in October in collaboration with Orange County Public Works and can be found at https://www.lrc.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works-Projects/Westminster-East-Garden-Grove/.


Public comments may be submitted by email to westminster_comments@usace.army.mil or mailed to: Orange County Public Works, ATTN: Justin Golliher, 300 N. Flower Street, Santa Ana, CA 92703.