Skip to comments.California's bayou (Delta levees)
Posted on 07/05/2006 9:35:58 PM PDT by calcowgirl
Sacramento and New Orleans are 2,000 miles apart. But when the Crescent City was submerged in what the media insisted on calling "toxic gumbo" following Hurricane Katrina, it brought overdue attention to the neglected levees of California's Delta.
That's the good news. The bad news is that estimates for the amount of money needed to completely fix the Delta levees could range up to $1.5 trillion, according to Ron Ott, deputy director of the California Bay-Delta Authority.
Ott came up with that shocking figure by comparing the Delta system to Holland; that country is in the midst of investing $2.5 trillion in repairs and upgrades to the system of dykes and levees that keeps much of its land out of the Atlantic. The Delta levee system is about 60 percent the size of Holland's--and $1.5 trillion is about 40 times larger than the entire infrastructure-bond package voters will decide on this fall.
Not doing anything about the Delta isn't an option. The Delta levees protect an estimated 450,000 acres of farmland--not to mention the majority of the state's drinking water.
"It's the only place in the world where 23 million people drink out of an estuary," Ott said. "Most people would say you were nuts if you did that."
Luckily, a lot of good can be done for far less--that is, once one gets through all the red tape, said Gilbert Labrie, vice president of DCC Engineering, which does work for many of California's flood-control districts. After submitting a proposal to the Army Corps of Engineers to fix one badly damaged site that carries Endangered Species Act designation, his company spent months waiting for a reply.
Then Katrina happened, and someone made phone call to Rep. Richard Pombo, the Tracy Republican whose district sits in the lower Delta. Pombo "rattled some cages" to get the project unstuck, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger acted even faster, adding the site to the list of 29 "critical" zones he wants the state to fix.
"Now the state is going to do it for us," Labrie said.
The Delta's levees are built to withstand a 300-year flood--just like New Orleans' levees were. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was much-maligned in the wake of Katrina, has most of the Delta's levees rated as safe, Labrie said. But they also haven't inspected most of them in years.
Federal money should be on the way as well. Congress has authorized $90 million to fix 23 sites, said Lynn O'Leary, Delta project manager for the Corps. However, she warns the money is not yet a sure thing: "Authorized is not appropriated."
Then there is the whole matter of liability. In 1986, a levee broke in Yuba County. Though the original levees had been built by farmers, the levees had been adopted into the State Plan of Flood Control. Responsibility was later turned over to a local agency, but then the levees broke and landowners sued the state. The case took two decades and made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the homeowners finally settled for $464 million--money California will be paying off for years.
"The state has been very shy about signing on for flood-control projects [since then]," said Dave Mraz, acting chief of the Delta-Suisun Marsh Office for the California Department of Water Resources.
Liability is a growing issue, literally, as the Delta sits in what is the rapidly expanding Northern Central Valley. Last year, the Great Valley Center, which studies agriculture and population issues, said the number of people living in the area could double by 2040.
Another group that is growing is the researchers who say it would be a terrible idea to allow such growth. Among these is Jeff Mount, a geology professor at UC Davis. Mount has argued that the Delta is under a major threat because of a combination of earthquakes, sinking islands and global warming.
After all, the Delta is connected to the Pacific Ocean via San Francisco Bay. It only came into being 7,000 years ago, as glacial melting at the end of the last ice age raised sea levels. Even conservative climate watchers are expecting a one- to three-foot rise by the end of the century; some claims there will be a 13 foot rise by 2100. This could not only sink the levees and inundate its intricate network of islands, it also could flood the Delta with salt water, forcing an already parched state to search for new sources, or build expensive desalinization plants.
Can the Delta be saved?
"That depends on your time-frame," Mraz said. "If you're looking at the next 50 years, I think we can and must preserve the Delta.
"However, over the next 1,000 years, yes, we're going to lose it."
Delta Dawn what's that flower you've got on... Could it be a faded rose from days gone by...
Surf's Up, at the Auburn Dam. :-)
It is also up at the Folsom Dam - I am downstream about 5 miles or so in Carmichael.
Of course you lose it in the next 1000 years. The BIG ONE will hit during that time frame and all of California will be a disaster area.
Just imagine a 6 plus magnitude earthquake and a critical levee fails. Hello Lake San Joaquin.
You mean Lake Contra Costa, right?
So, how about the tie-in between global warming interests and contractors?
Hmmmm... first sign of global warming?? /sarcasm
I don't understand your question.
Wow the growth in the area is amazing (in 3 years)! What happened to my little town! LOL
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