Monday, November 07, 2005

Sacramento Flooding, Part Four

The flooding series continues in the Bee, in this story from yesterday’s edition, focusing on the building of family housing in flood prone areas.

Tempting fate: Flood prone
Valley homes pop up in risky areas
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Sunday, November 6, 2005

At least 115,000 new homes are in the pipeline for flood-prone areas of California's Central Valley, a Bee review of public records shows, and already thousands of them are rising behind levees known to be suspect, on tracts of land that have flooded repeatedly in the past.

That degree of growth is equivalent to erecting a city the size of Stockton on a swath of land with the nation's greatest flood risk.

The names of some of the developments even boast of their waterlogged histories - Plumas Lake, for instance, and River Islands.

Yet because of fractured government oversight, much of this construction will happen with little regard for flood risk.

Some say, as a result, the state risks a disaster unlike anything it has seen before. It could be California's own version of the devastating New Orleans flood that followed Hurricane Katrina.

"It's glaringly obvious developers are being accommodated and public safety is being forgotten," said Tom Foley, president of the Marysville-based Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth.
Foley's group is fighting the Plumas Lake development plan approved by Yuba County in 1993. It calls for 12,000 new homes in the Olivehurst area, which flooded in 1986 and 1997, after levee breaks on the Yuba and Feather rivers, respectively. Homes are being built there now, with 1,500 of them expected to be occupied by the end of 2006.

Large though it is, Plumas Lake offers just a peek at the development coming to the Valley's flood zones.

True tally could be 170,000

Using research by the Delta Protection Commission, a state agency, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, The Bee found that at least 115,000 new homes are planned or already under construction in flood-prone areas of six counties between Marysville and Tracy.

The Bee looked at areas in the potential flood zone behind levees, not only areas within a floodplain mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is because, by its own admission, FEMA floodplain maps are outdated.

The Bee also made an independent tally of housing development in flood zones and found that the 115,000 estimate is conservative.

It does not include a general plan update under way in the city of Stockton, for instance, that could allow thousands of additional homes behind levees along the San Joaquin River.

Eric Parfrey, an urban planner and former president of the Sierra Club's Mother Lode chapter, conducted his own review of housing development in the south Delta alone last year and came up with a much larger number: 170,000. Parfrey also found that getting a firm grip on growth is difficult, because no single government agency keeps track.

Nor is any entity monitoring the cumulative impact of growth on water quality and wildlife habitat - or public safety.

For the rest of the story: