Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nonprofit Management of Sacramento Zoo

The nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society took over management of the Sacramento Zoo several years ago due to the city being unable to care for it, and the benefits have been consistently good, as witnessed by this latest effort, from today's Bee, of fundraising and planned growth.

The key comment here is: "The nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society spearheaded fundraising efforts...", fundraising capability being a huge benefit of having a nonprofit contract with the public ownership to manage a major public resource, as our organization is calling for with the Parkway.

Caring for the critters
Sacramento Zoo to build on-site veterinary hospital
By Erika Chavez -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The ring-tailed lemur soon will have a place to repose, and the spotted hyena will have a haven in which to heal.

A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday at the Sacramento Zoo will be the first step toward a long-awaited on-site veterinary hospital, a $2.5 million project slated for completion by next fall.
The Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital will house a laboratory, treatment rooms, intensive-care unit, holding and surgery facilities, said Mary Healy, director of the Sacramento Zoo.

Windows will allow zoo visitors to watch as the animals are cared for, a rare "behind-the-scenes" peek into the inner workings of a modern zoo.

The 5,000-square-foot hospital will be a key part of maintaining the zoo's accreditation with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Healy said.

The goal: to maintain a healthy animal population through routine physicals and exams.

"Preventive medicine has become a much larger piece of taking care of zoo animals than it has been historically," Healy said. "We've been making do with a one-room clinic and a bathroom that we converted for X-ray processing, but we know we need to get more sophisticated with our animal care."

The nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society spearheaded fundraising efforts and, to date, has raised more than $1 million. The society's board decided to take out a loan to cover the remainder of construction costs.

For the rest of the story:

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sacramento Flooding, Part Six

As this story from yesterday's Bee shows, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area, North Sacramento, will be the hardest hit when floods come again.

North Sacramento is also blessed with one of the most beautiful areas of the Parkway, though cursed by large scale illegal camping by the homeless and related crime, which local political leaders seem unable to address effectively; similar to how they are dealing (so far) with flood protection.

Facing the deepest risk
Quiet N. Sac neighborhood could be hit hardest in flood
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Monday, November 28, 2005

Adriana Figueroa loves the mound of flowers that rises toward her front yard fountain in a crescendo of pink, purple and red. For Nancy Her, it's the peacefulness of her street, and the step-down family room that offers a welcome bit of space in a house jammed with six kids and two parents.

Like hundreds of thousands of others in the Sacramento region, the Figueroas and the Hers have made their homes behind levees, putting up family photos, raising children and chasing dreams where water could someday flow.

Unlike others, though, they live in a tidy corner of North Sacramento that boasts an unfortunate distinction.

It is the place where water could run deepest under levee-break scenarios modeled by the city and county of Sacramento to help plan evacuations.

"We're in the dead zone, you could say," said Pang Her, 23, as she sized up where her parents' house lies on city flood maps.

If levees gave way, murky floodwater would engulf the Hers' backyard chicken pen and pour through front and back doors. Water would top the wrought iron fence, the white-trimmed windows and even the shingled roof, reaching 25 feet in just three days, according to one scenario.

No other levee break in Sacramento would heap more water onto a single community during the hypothetical "hundred-year" storm that the city and county use to model how best to respond if various levees give way.

For the rest of the story:

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sacramento Flooding, Part Five

This is the continuation of the excellent series, Tempting Fate, by the Bee about the potential for flooding in Sacramento, which most experts agree is not a matter of if but when, and how bad, unless we do something substantial about storing the vast amounts of water that can flow into the American River watershed and hence the Sacramento River, during a major series of storms, such as those we witnessed in 1986 and 1997.

Today’s article focuses on the available maps showing where the flooding would occur and at what depth, for several scenarios of levee failure.

Tomorrow we will post the second article about the effect on one particular community, North Sacramento.

Flood maps help plan for peril
They show who's at risk, how to exit
By Deb Kollars -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Monday, November 28, 2005

Levee by levee, road by road, the city and county of Sacramento have pieced together plans for something they hope they never have to do: evacuate whole neighborhoods in a catastrophic flood.

The two governing agencies have developed an eye-opening collection of flood maps that show 18 hypothetical levee breaks, where the water would spread under worst-case scenarios, and how deep it would get.

Another 18 companion maps show evacuation routes and, chillingly, which of those routes could become inundated in a flood.

The maps, which have been shared with residents at recent city meetings and are being distributed online today by The Bee, come as part of a wave of stepped-up preparedness by cities, counties, school districts and hospitals across the region.

Heavy on the minds of those entrusted with public health and safety: the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the South in late summer. And the fact that there is no other major American city more at risk of a Katrina-style flood than Sacramento.

For people who live and work here, the maps couldn't have arrived too soon.

Joan Irving, for example, is a legal secretary who lives in south Sacramento. After attending one of the city's emergency preparedness meetings in September, she left with a boatload of questions.

"I'm a mother working downtown, with a daughter in college and three grandchildren at two different schools," she said. "If there's an emergency and they evacuate the kids, where are they going to be taken? How will we all find each other?"

Her concerns echoed the thoughts of many, who have questioned how prepared the community is to handle a flood.

Both the city and the county of Sacramento have lengthy plans in place to handle a flood emergency, from monitoring levees to ordering sandbags to sheltering evacuees.

But a number of local agencies and institutions are far from being ready. Several are retooling plans after watching the inadequate emergency response in New Orleans. Others acknowledged they are starting from scratch. Still others are simply scratching their heads.

The new city of Rancho Cordova, for example, does not yet have an emergency plan for a flood, and would follow Sacramento County's if a crisis arose. The city of West Sacramento has a plan that was updated last year, but the city still is working to identify day-care centers, senior centers and other vulnerable populations on its maps. The Grant Joint Union High School District has no plan for evacuating schools in flood-prone areas.

For the rest of the story:

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book Review: Nature Noir

This is a very interesting review of the acclaimed book about the American River in the area once destined (and perhaps again) to become the Auburn Dam, which reminds us, unfortunately, of the Lower Reach of the Parkway we reported on this year.

It also reminds us of the importance of having an active stewardship to ensure our natural resources remain the priceless and safe sanctuaries we wish them to be.

Ranger exposes underside of natural, human-made dramas
Reviewed by Jennie Yabroff San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Nature Noir
A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra
By Jordan Fisher Smith

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN; 220 Pages; $24

"Follow the water." No Deep-Throated environmental informant actually whispers this advice to writer Jordan Fisher Smith late one night in a deserted campground, but the sentiment infuses "Nature Noir," his taut drama of life as a ranger in the Sierra.

Fisher Smith's book follows the tradition of nature writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir and Annie Dillard. But "Nature Noir" is no Emersonian ode to pastoral transcendentalism, nor is it a Muirian celebration of the sacred in the wilderness.

The writer who most closely anticipates Fisher Smith's themes is Joan Didion, who wrote, in 1977, "some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive."

Fisher Smith would probably find nothing unusual about this obsession. Because for the 14 years he worked the canyons of the American River, he lived under the daily specter of the ravine being flooded for a dam.

Fisher Smith does much to dispel the notion of park users as docile birdwatchers in hiking shorts or rangers as kindly wildflower guides in khaki hats.

His job implies protecting the people from nature, but the reality is more often vice versa.

The hunters, fishermen and miners he encounters are drawn to the recreation area not because of an inherent love of clean air and open sky, but because camping is a cheap way to live with little outside interference.

When he begins the job, another ranger explains he shouldn't try to collect campsite fees the first Thursday of the month, because it's "Cheese Day": the day the government doles out surplus food.

Miners supplement these handouts with the flakes of gold they manage to dredge from the river bottom. Squatters manufacture illegal drugs in shacks hidden deep in the woods. Extreme recreators view the park as a giant obstacle course for their cars, off-road vehicles and parachutes.

For the rest of the review:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Scary Flood Map

This article from the Bee on Friday about what Sacramento would look like after a 500 year flood, shows a huge lake covering all of the city of Sacramento with the American River becoming an inlet and much of the Parkway submerged.

Scary is certainly the right word to describe it.

Scary flood map sparks a call for state assistance
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, November 18, 2005

Sacramento Valley politicians on Thursday called for a statewide effort to protect the region from flooding, citing its strategic importance to the California economy.

But board members of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments stopped short of discussing growth controls that would keep more homes from being built in areas likely to flood.

The discussion was triggered in large part by an eye-popping map developed by the SACOG staff that illustrates a 500-year flood event in the six-county region. The term refers to a massive storm with a one in 500 chance of occurring in any year. The results would be devastating: a solid carpet of floodwater stretching up to 20 miles wide between the Sutter Buttes in the north and Highway 12 in the south.

"I think a storm like this is coming. It just hasn't hit us yet," said Les Harder, acting deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources, who briefed the board on potential flood damages.

Harder said most of the Valley's levees were built to protect farms and offer as little as 50-year protection. This is "simply inadequate" for the urbanization now taking place, he said.

On the 500-year map, multiple levee breaks would put many communities and highways under water. In some places, that water would be only inches deep. But the map brought home the consequences of inaction for the gathered city and county leaders, most of whom depend to some degree on aging, unstable levees.

"If there's any validity to this map, can we responsibly not treat it as a planning document?" said Linda Budge, Rancho Cordova city councilwoman. "We have the unfortunate advantage of having seen what happens (in New Orleans) when you don't have a plan. We need to figure out what to do about it."

For the rest of the story:

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Shrinking Uncity, Part Two

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the rush of new city incorporation efforts, here is a recent story about the Fair Oaks/Orangevale/Gold River effort.

Fair Oaks to study cityhood feasibility
By Lakiesha McGhee -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, November 17, 2005

A citizens committee is stepping up its efforts to determine if Fair Oaks - a community of about 29,000 people - can operate as a city and possibly merge with neighboring Orangevale and Gold River.

Members last week said they are requesting proposals from six consultants to conduct a feasibility study that will identify potential barriers to Fair Oaks cityhood, such as costs and revenue sources, boundary issues, and effects on Sacramento County and other local governments. The committee has set a Jan. 16 deadline to receive proposals.

"I'm pushing for the feasibility study to get started as soon as we can," member Jim Purcell said Wednesday night at a community meeting.

The committee plans to file for nonprofit status to raise funds to pay for the initial feasibility study and a following comprehensive fiscal analysis of the proposed incorporation.

Feasibility studies generally cost about $30,000 and can take at least six months to complete, Purcell said. Committee members said they will seek donations from organizations, special districts and cities that may be supportive of their cause.

The Fair Oaks Chamber of Commerce, which has sponsored the committee's monthly meetings, has not been formally approached to help finance a study, chamber past president Joe Spagnoli said at the meeting. However, the chamber has a political action committee to raise funds for the study if it chooses to do so, he said.

During the past six months, the volunteer committee has weighed the potential benefits and pitfalls of incorporating Fair Oaks and meshing with Orange-vale and Gold River under a borough system like the one used in New York City.

The goal: Maintain community identity and keep tax dollars and fees paid by residents within their respective communities.

For the rest of the story:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Shrinking Uncity

One of the major reasons Sacramento County is unable to take care of the Parkway, and a reason underlying why we have called for daily management of the Parkway to be contracted to a nonprofit conservancy, is that the County is rapidly dwindling in size and resources.

In a Bee editorial yesterday, the shrinking County is addressed again.

If all of the incorporations of new cities that are now being planned in the County occur, and many of them will, the County will eventually consist of Carmichael and Antelope, period.

While that is a good thing in the sense of those municipalities wanting control over their own destiny having it, it is a very bad thing for the Parkway as long as the County is responsible for Parkway management, as the Parkway is already at the bottom of a County funding priority list of an ever-shrinking pie of tax revenue.

Editorial: Uncities left behind
Incorporation bids overlook big territories
Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Uncity, the unincorporated communities of Sacramento, have never seen such a simultaneous flurry to leave the county's control and create cities of their own.

In the communities of Rio Linda and Elverta, activists are halfway to raising the necessary funds for a feasibility study of a 25,000-person city. In Arden-Arcade, a collection of neighborhoods encompassing Fulton and Eastern avenues, activists continue their efforts toward a possible vote in 2008 to create a city of 100,000. And in Orangevale, Fair Oaks and Gold River, hundreds of residents are attending forums to explore whether to jointly create yet a third new city.

All of these efforts are similar in that they trace the local geographic boundaries that fit the desired local and economic identity. But the boundaries pose a problem. It is what they leave out. While we support municipalization of the Uncity, a bunch of minicities isn't the optimal solution.

For the rest of the story:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sounds of Silence

This is a delightful article from the LA Times yesterday, about the value of nature’s quiet, the moments many of us experience in the Parkway, when all we hear are the sounds of nature.

Nature’s quiet is so rare today, so precious in our urban environment, and so worth preserving, protecting, and strengthening.

A voice for silence

· One man, writes John Balzar, thinks quiet may be Earth's most endangered natural resource.
By John Balzar, Times Staff Writer

There are only seven or eight quiet places remaining in the United States.Fewer than 10. In the entire nation.

Barely more than half a dozen in all the parks, wilderness, refuges and "wild" spaces that we treasure.

Fewer all the time.

Quiet is going extinct.

These thoughts turn over in the mind as you explore one of these few quiet places left in North America, perhaps the quietest of them all. Your guide is a man who has given his career to listening and recording the pure sounds of nature — and searching for meaning in what they convey.

He has become one of the few Americans to raise his voice on behalf of the vanishing quiet.

Naturally, your purpose here is to inquire about the value of this timeless thing that is slipping away without … well, without alarm, without a sense of loss, without broad public discussion. But something else occurs along the way. When you enter the realm of quiet to ponder it, the quiet awakens in you a missing bond with the natural world. The quieter the surroundings, the more — and the better — you hear. The world around you expands into a three-dimensional place.


No need to strain. Just listen.That is the autumn sound of yellowed maple leaves falling from the tree and settling on the forest floor 50 feet away. It is a sound you've never consciously heard.

More to the point, it is a sound you didn't know you could hear.

It sounds faintly like nature giving itself a gentle round of applause.

Spiritual balm"QUIET is the think tank of the soul."

For the rest of the article:,0,7904747.story?coll=la-home-outdoors

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Water Supply, RAND Study

A major study has just been released by RAND about water, from which we will draw some direction in the coming year as we study the water supply and demand locally. Here is an excerpt and a link to information about either downloading it for free as a pdf document or purchsing it.

“In the last 70 years, the world’s population has tripled in size while going from overwhelmingly rural to a near balance of urban and rural—a change that affects both how humans use water and the amount they consume.

“In the late 1980’s, concern over a potential water crisis began to grow. Much of the resulting literature has taken an alarmist view. Numerous reports sensationalized the so-called water crisis without taking into account the local or regional nature of water resources and the relationship between supply and demand. A number of factors are cited to support the position that the earth is headed toward a water crisis. They include the following:

The human population continues to grow.

Water withdrawals are outpacing population growth.

Per-capita water availability is declining.

Clean, potable water is less available worldwide.

“However, calculations of water resources rely on factors that are difficult to measure. It is important to consider the following:

Water supply and demand are difficult to measure accurately.

Water management plays an important role in the supply of and demand for water.

Population forecasts are changeable.

“Given these limitations, predictions of water scarcity may be overstated. At the same time, the risk of a water shortage remains.”

RAND. (2005). Liquid Assets: (pp. xiii-xiv)

For further information:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Salmon, the Aboriginal Habitat

Here is a very informative article about salmon, in their aboriginal habitat, from Open Space magazine.

Salmon and the Northwest
by Roy Hemmingway

Here in the Lower Forty-Eight, and in much of western Canada, natural habitat has almost vanished... Much that civilization demands for its sustenance has had a consequence in the fate of the salmon.

There is not much of it left. Of untouched salmon habitat there is almost none. Although salmon once occupied almost every ocean-seeking stream in the Pacific Northwest, the map where salmon go has been shrinking for the last hundred years, sometimes gradually as human forces slowly worsened the habitat, sometimes suddenly when millions of acres of habitat were blocked by dams.

Now to see the headwater-to-the-sea habitat where the salmon thrive in abundance, one must go to Alaska. Here in the Lower Forty-eight, and in much of western Canada, it has almost vanished. A century and a half of logging, farming, ranching, mining, damming, road building, and urbanizing activity has taken its toll. Much that civilization demands for its sustenance has had a consequence in the fate of the salmon.

The Aboriginal Habitat

Only in a handful of small pockets, miniature and isolated ecosystems, can there still be found habitat as it once was. On the Oregon coast, just south of the town of Yachats, is a little untouched watershed, barely eight miles from the headwaters to the ocean. Cummins Creek winds through a narrow, steep-sided valley. There, free from the ax and chainsaw, and now protected under the federal Wilderness Act, trees many feet thick rise to the sky, almost blocking out the sun.

Over years, as trees have died, they have fallen or been blown into the creek. Although the creek is small and shallow in many places, even in the low water of summer it is a struggle for humans to walk the streambed. Tree trunks are everywhere in the creek, creating dams over which the water must plunge, digging out pools that could soak a person up to the neck. Gravel bars have built up where the creek slows. The fallen trees push the creek from bank to bank, undercutting, and causing more trees, rootwads and all, to end up in the creek bed. All this adds up to stream "complexity,"a diverse set of stream conditions that create the habitat needed for healthy salmon.

In other streams, where the trees have not been allowed to mature and die and end up in the creek, what we see is a far more simplified stream. What most of us now envision as the pristine natural stream, bubbling along at a uniform pace smoothly to the sea, is not what the pioneers saw in many of the Northwest watersheds. Instead, west of the Cascades, they found creeks so choked with trees that in places they could not reach the water for the many layers of criss-crossing trunks over the streambed. On the larger rivers, log jams were common barriers to navigation, which had to be blown up or painstakingly picked apart by men who risked their lives not knowing when the jam would give way.

Whether for aesthetics or practicalities, man in the American West has systematically rid both large and small streams of the logs, boulders, and other "debris"that shape the stream and give life to salmon. Abundant beaver built dams on the smaller streams. The ponds behind the dams gave refuge to juvenile salmon from the high currents of winter floods and the warm waters of summer droughts. Now trapped and driven from much of their previous range, beaver once were as ubiquitous in the Northwest as salmon.

The simplified stream channels now seen everywhere and which have such dire consequences for salmon are in no small part due to the absence of beaver. Before the effects of man, creeks and streams and rivers moved across their floodplains, changing positions as high water cut new channels and dammed up old ones. Floods spread out into multiple channels, where the over-wintering juvenile salmon could find refuge from the fast water. In summer, these streams, slowed and directed by logs and boulders near the banks, dug deep channels, keeping the water cool throughout the hot days. It was into these conditions that the salmon evolved. They are a product of this particular landscape.

Although the salmon were home throughout the Columbia River and Pacific Coast states, from the coastal rain forests to the high deserts, the streams in which they began and ended their lives all shared these attributes. Vegetation along stream banks provided shade and engineered the variety that salmon need during the freshwater phases of their life cycle. The rivers "interacted"with their flood plains by changing channels as flows increased and decreased. Small spawning streams were narrow, deep, and cool, with lots of riffles, pools and gravel bars. In the arid areas east of the Cascades, where fewer firs and pines grow, willows, aspens, locusts, and cottonwoods provided stream complexity.

For the rest of the article:

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Protecting the Salmon

This story, from the Bee yesterday, reveals the yeoman work being done by so many, in a quiet and deliberate way, to protect the salmon, so beautifully described as “a fish that has long defined the soul of West Coast waterways.”

He's a big fish in a series of small ways
Biologist's little tasks may loom large for salmon
By Blair Anthony Robertson -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Joe Johnson spends much of his work time on a pontoon boat on a quiet stretch of the Sacramento River, working to save a fish that has long defined the soul of West Coast waterways.

He bakes under the summer sun and shivers through the winter rains, devoted to making his rounds.

A recent Friday found him near Knights Landing, north of Sacramento, tending to the two salmon traps he maintains with fellow biologist Robert Vincik.

Taken piece by piece, much of what Johnson does seems small, tasks that are practically insignificant and performed in obscurity.

He catches fish in the traps. He scoops out leaves and debris and sifts through them with his fingers. He checks the speed of the current, the clarity of the water, its temperature. On and on, he records the details and the data, then sends them along for others to analyze.

It's the little things that define his day's work. But Johnson, a 40-year-old biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, has devoted his career to the bigger picture. He's one of many helping to ensure the salmon's poignant round trip endures in the modern world and withstands all of the sins against Mother Earth.

For the rest of the story:

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sacramento Flood Protection, the Best or Less? Part Two

The three important facts revealed in this story from the Bee today is that 1) New Orleans had 250 year flood protection, 2) the Folsom Dam improvement plans would give Sacramento 200 year flood protection, and 3) to get any protection above that the solutions have to be sought upstream of Folsom Dam.

The two political positions as stated are; 1) environmentalist leadership says 400 year protection is too expensive, and 2) public leadership says we should be aiming for as close to 500 year protection as we can get.

After what we saw in New Orleans, whose leadership felt that more protection than the 250 year level they already had, was also too expensive, and considering the real costs—in the multi-billions—to clean-up and rebuild New Orleans, we should be careful about being penny-wise and pound foolish.

Auburn dam cost study part of bill
House will also consider today cheaper flood-control projects.
By David Whitney -- Bee Washington BureauPublished 2:15 am PST Wednesday, November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON - The House will take up an energy and water spending bill today that encourages new approaches to Sacramento flood control while ordering a new study on the cost of building an Auburn dam.

The measure also puts further pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed construction of a bridge over the American River below Folsom Dam. The need for the bridge intensified after the 2003 closure of a road atop the dam that had been heavily used by commuters. The measure directs $10 million to the bridge's construction next year.

The $30 billion spending bill contains the imprints of Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and John Doolittle, R-Roseville, without any dramatic shifts in the strategy for protecting Sacramento from American River flooding.

It sets the stage, however, for what could turn out to be an extensive congressional reappraisal of that strategy next year, including cheaper ways to modify Folsom Dam to deliver 200-year flood protection to the region and, more fundamentally, whether in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans, 200-year protection is enough.

In total project funding, the Sacramento area would receive about $40 million next year for ongoing flood-control work.

Since the August hurricane inundated vast areas of New Orleans, many have begun to wonder about Sacramento's survival chances in a massive flood. New Orleans' level of flood protection had been rated at 250 years, meaning its risk of a devastating flood was 1-in-250 during any given year.

For the rest of the story:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sacramento Flood Control Funding

Sacramento area public leadership appears to have worked together effectively in this instance. Let's hope it continues.

Lawmakers fund flood control, energy projects for California
By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer Published 6:00 pm PST Monday, November 7, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers on Monday agreed to spend $40 million on flood control projects around Sacramento. They also provided full funding for a giant laser being built at Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab in Northern California - a project that had been threatened by cuts in the Senate.

The decisions came as House and Senate budget negotiators completed work on a $30.5 billion bill to fund energy and water projects. The legislation is expected to win approval by the full House and Senate later this week.

The $40 million for Sacramento flood control projects includes about $25 million for improvements on the Folsom Dam and $6.3 million for work on the Sacramento River bank.

"This funding will help us create the blueprints we need for the most critical levee repairs and storage expansion projects," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.

For the rest of the story:

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:

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pineapple Express Coming?

This news from today’s Bee is not the news we wanted to hear so soon after New Orleans, and so soon after being reminded, once again, that Sacramento is the most susceptible city in America to major flooding, all because local public leadership is not reacting responsibly to this well-known fact by developing flood protection.

Warm storms may brew trouble
Conditions ripe for the flood-producing 'Pineapple Express.'
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, November 5, 2005

Weather forecasters say this winter will bring an increased likelihood for "Pineapple Express" storms, the pattern that poses the greatest danger to California's flood-control system.

This same pattern existed in January 1997, when a warm stretch of storms brought one of the state's worst floods. Massive river flows caused more than 30 levee breaks in the Central Valley, nine deaths, $2 billion in damages and the biggest evacuation effort in California history.

The Pineapple Express pattern is distinguished by a dramatically curving jet stream that sweeps past Alaska before dipping down to Hawaii and picking up gobs of moisture to hurl at the Golden State. It can bring up to two weeks of back-to-back storms, followed by a long dry period, repeating every 45 to 60 days.

In short, it is California's equivalent of hurricane season.

"In this case, the storm track is such that the possibility of a true Pineapple connection is increased," said Cindy Matthews, National Weather Service hydrologist. "We're more likely to have those setup conditions be in place."

The pattern is two times more likely to occur this year than in an average year, she said. There is no guarantee it will happen, but we could get our first taste very soon.

For the rest of the story:

Friday, November 04, 2005

Water Supply, Folsom

As this article from today’s Bee notes, the continued, growth-driven search for water supply will intensify, and each successful search will diminish the reliability, and optimal conditions, of the water supply for the salmon and the Parkway.

In a strategic sense, we need to seek solutions satisfying both, as both are inevitable and necessary.

Growth is inevitable because this is a delightful place to live, which many are discovering, and that will continue.

The Parkway is necessary, with the salmon in its heart, and will become even more so as development increases.

Folsom chasing water supply
The city is eager to expand south of Highway 50 but first must find a permanent source of billions more gallons a year.
By Jim Downing -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Friday, November 4, 2005

Folsom is thirsty.

To expand south of Highway 50, the city needs to find a permanent supply of as much as 10,000 acre-feet of water - 3.3 billion gallons a year.

But all the water in the American River - from which the city draws its entire supply - already is spoken for.

So Folsom is courting water agencies near and far in search of a new source that would pave the way for nearly 15,000 homes in a 3,600-acre area south of the freeway.

"We'll take what we can get," Folsom Utilities Director Ken Payne said.

Water managers from neighboring districts seem ready to work with Folsom on identifying a new water source.

Trouble is, there's not much to go around.

Even a relatively flush local supplier like the Placer County Water Agency - which often sells water in dry years - isn't looking to unload any permanent supply.

"We're not planning on making any long-term commitments to anybody outside Placer County," said county water agency director Einar Maisch.

So, Folsom also is looking beyond the American River to the Sacramento River.

Payne said he has spoken with officials of the Natomas Central Mutual Water Co., which holds rights to 120,200 acre-feet of Sacramento River water. The company historically has supplied water to farmers in northern Sacramento County and southern Sutter County.

Neither Payne nor company general manager Dan Peterson would comment on the substance of their talks.

Even if Folsom does secure a permanent supply of Sacramento River water, getting water flowing into pipes south of Highway 50 promises to be a challenge.

Building a direct pipeline to carry Sacramento River water uphill to Folsom likely would be impractical.

But a third party with pipes to both the Sacramento and American rivers could be the intermediary in a trade that would send more water to Folsom.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Land Trusts

Land Trusts are one of the most effective tools used to protect open space, now protecting 9.5 million acres in the Untied States. Even with the recent problems the Washington Post revealed regarding the largest land trust, The Nature Conservancy, which you can read here:
land trusts are still wonderful tools.

There are problems however, including the perpetual removal of land from taxation, which dramatically effects local government funding and future land-use decision-making.

This excellent paper from the Property Environment Research Center (PERC) addresses those issues.

Conservation Easements: A Closer Look at Federal Tax Policy
By Dominic P. Parker

Bipartisan support for conservation easements exists because politicians know that this program works and brings important benefits to communities throughout the country." —Land Trust Alliance

Land trusts and one of their important tools, conservation easements, are major forces in today's environmental movement. Conservation easements are partial interests in land that prohibit intense development. They have helped conserve millions of acres of valuable open space, wildlife habitat, river corridors, and wetlands.

One factor motivating conservation easements has been federal tax policy, which allows landowners who donate easements to obtain tax benefits. This policy has led to criticism of some trusts for their use of conservation easements. In this essay' "Conservation Easements: A closer Look at Federal Tax Policy," Dominic P. Parker examines the impact of tax policy on the use of easements and recommends some changes in current policy to better serve the American public.

PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets. This paper is part of the PERC Policy Series, which addresses timely topics involving markets and environmental issues.

It is also part of the Dufresne Foundation series of essays, which seek to reconcile environmental and economic pressures, especially in the western United States.

About the Author

Domnic P. Parker is a doctoral student in environmental economics and science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and also serves as a PERC Senior Research Fellow. He has a master's degree in applied economics from Montana State University. In addition to studying conservation easements while at PERC, he researched wildlife management, water, and Indian reservation economies.

For the PERC site and a pdf link to the report:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sacramento Flooding, Part Three

In a continuation of the stories in the Bee series on flooding that began this past Sunday, these two include a personal account and an editorial.

Stuart Leavenworth: River City's kinship with the Crescent City
By Stuart Leavenworth -- Associate Editor Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, October 30, 2005

It is hard to fathom the power of unleashed water. When it topples a levee during a flood, it rockets downward with explosive force, tossing cars on top of houses, and houses off their foundations. It then demolishes everything in its path, except for a few strings of Mardi Gras beads.

I saw the beads repeatedly the other week while visiting the remnants of New Orleans. In neighborhoods of the rich and poor, across three-fourths of the city, homeowners had returned home, wept and tried to salvage what they could. Some had found only their Mardi Gras necklaces. They spread them in the sun to dry and hung them from dead trees like Christmas ornaments.

Since my return to Sacramento, I tend to hear the same comments:
Oh, those poor people. ... I can't imagine. ... It sounds awful there.

Such comments strike the right notes of sympathy while retaining an air of detachment. For people in Sacramento - or for that matter, St. Louis, Kansas City or other cities behind levees - the New Orleans flood seems like a faraway disaster, much like the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

People who live in deep flood plains tend to develop a collective amnesia. Sure, they might recall or have heard about the 1986 flood, which nearly inundated Sacramento and caused a levee to rupture in Yuba County, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. They might be familiar with the 1997 flood, which caused another levee break in Yuba County, killing three people and driving 120,000 from their homes.

But for many Sacramentans, Yuba County is as foreign as Louisiana. Few people have seen these places through the eyes of local rescue crews, who plucked people from rooftops in both Yuba and New Orleans. Nor have they seen it through the eyes of Les Harder, a local flood control engineer who recently returned from New Orleans.

Harder, part of a National Science Foundation team investigating the city's levee failures, was profoundly affected by his visit. Like many of his colleagues, he once tried to maintain the cautious, studied detachment of a professional engineer.

Now he seems like a different man.

"It is almost like someone dropped an atomic bomb on the city, without the fire," said Harder, who heads the flood management division of the California Department of Water Resources. "You go there, and it covers block after block, for miles and miles. You see houses jammed against houses, cars overturned and mold and mud everywhere."

As Harder notes, the two towns differ in many respects. Unlike Sacramento, most of New Orleans sits below sea level. Unlike the River City, the Crescent City has flood walls on top of its levees, and is flanked by an estuary - Lake Pontchartrain - that can create enormous storm surges during a hurricane.

On the other hand, both Sacramento and New Orleans are ringed by levees. The levees are the artifacts of early settlers. Sure, these earthen mounds have been reinforced over the years, but they were never designed and built to any modern standards.

Moreover, says Harder, Sacramento is more vulnerable than New Orleans, at least when you consider the frequency of potential storms.

Based on pre-Katrina calculations, New Orleans had a one-in-250 chance of flooding in any given year. Sacramento, by contrast, has about a one-in-100 risk each year - a threat unmatched in any U.S. city of its size.

For the rest of the story:

Editorial: Responsibility time
As they count bodies in New Orleans, issues of who should be accountable
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, October 30, 2005

They are still counting the dead in New Orleans, a gruesome task that will take months.

Authorities have found more than 1,050 bodies and identified about 800 of them. Most were elderly - a shocking 37 percent were older than 75 years - trapped inside their homes after the levees broke. Many died in poor areas on the east side of town, but scores also died in more affluent neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
As more bodies are uncovered and more property owners return to their mud-soaked homes, the recrimination is building. Lawyers are fueling this backlash by posting yard signs in New Orleans that say, "Class action lawsuit, dial this number...." Federal and state officials are blaming each other for the slow effort to recover bodies.

Following any disaster, there always is a tendency to mourn then engage in a flurry of fingerpointing.

For the rest of the Editorial :

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sacramento Flooding, Part Two

As we posted yesterday, a series on flood control began in the Sacramento Bee this past Sunday, and the opening statement by the editor is included in today’s post, but it also reminds us of the knowledge of the magnitude of the flood threat Sacramento faces that others have been expressing for years.

Congressman John Doolittle, who has been supporting the Auburn Dam as the optimal solution to Sacramento’s flood threat for over two decades says on his website:

“The Sacramento Region has the unusual distinction of suffering from both the threat of severe flooding and drought in the very same year. The Auburn Dam is the only project which would solve both of these water management needs. Without it, Sacramento will inevitably suffer from catastrophic flooding, and our region will continue to suffer from the effects of a depleting water supply. The construction of the Auburn Dam has been a top priority of mine for over two decades because it is the solution to so many of Northern California’s most pressing problems.The flood control plan advanced by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) - a half billion dollar plan which calls for modifications to Folsom Dam and levee improvements along the American River - is seriously flawed.

Superior Flood Protection: With only a 95-year level flood protection (a one-in-95 chance of flooding in any given year), the City of Sacramento holds the distinction of having the least flood protection for its residents of any comparable city in the United States. Serious storm events in 1986 and 1997 highlighted this precarious situation. For example, in 1986, Folsom Lake filled to within three inches of overflow and critical failure. Additionally, flood waters washed away a small coffer dam meant to keep the Auburn construction site dry and downstream levees failed and seeped while terrified Sacramento officials came within hours of evacuating 35,000 people. “

For the rest of the story:

And Joe Sullivan of the Sacramento County Tax League, wrote in 2001:

“As Sacramento's flood control facilities have only about a 95-year flood capability, for the next 4 to 5 years we can be inundated by a 100-year flood. Yet, despite efforts of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) and all our local elected state and congressional officials during the 15 years since 1986, the best they have been able to do is put together a patchwork of small flood control projects that allegedly will raise the valley's flood control level to 140-years by about 2005.

This is well below the 200-year level, agreed by all to be a minimum for protection of Sacramento, and way below the 500-year protection enjoyed by all the major cities in the United States adjacent to major rivers.”

For the rest of the story:

With this in context, the following introduction to the Bee’s series is instructive.

Rick Rodriguez: We must learn from Katrina's hard lessons
By Rick Rodriguez -- Executive editor and senior vice president of The BeePublished 2:15 am PST Sunday, October 30, 2005

When the board of directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors met in Sacramento last month, two members notably were missing.

Jim Amoss, editor of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and Stan Tiner, executive editor of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., were back home leading their papers as their communities dealt with the horrendous devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In both communities, the newspapers provided enormous public service. Despite severe damage at their own buildings, they published daily, either online or in print, keeping residents of their ravaged communities linked and keeping those of us on the outside informed as well.

They were the trusted sources, their community's watchdogs, the ones to whom people turned for hope and answers.

At the editors' meeting, we talked to Amoss and Tiner in conference calls. They told poignant, heartbreaking stories of loss, the enormity of which was hard to comprehend. They told uplifting stories of extraordinary effort and kindness in times of crisis. They told of people longing for news - news of missing family members, news about their neighborhoods, any news at all that could help maintain the sense of community and restore hope. And their words had a profound impact on those of us in the room, just as the images that you all saw in print and on television had a profound impact on many of you.

So in Katrina's aftermath, we at The Bee found ourselves asking the obvious question: Could this happen here? Could the community where we live, the community that we love, be equally devastated by floods?

We set out to answer that question and more, to help expose problems that can be corrected so we don't have to go through what New Orleans and Biloxi and many more cities on the Gulf Coast have gone through.

Today, we publish the answer to the first major question. The answer is worse than we thought.

"There is ... no major city in America more at risk of a catastrophic New Orleans-style flood than Sacramento," concludes staff writer Deb Kollars, one of three reporters we've assigned to investigate flood-related questions in the region.

For the rest of the story: