Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Taboo Continues

In this editorial from the Bee on Thursday, January 26, the important thing to note is the apparent continued taboo, in the plan presented, against including the option of building a dam to protect us from floods.

Here is an excerpt.

"A well-rounded strategy for flood protection in the Central Valley must have multiple elements. These include stronger levees, better mapping of flood hazards, coordinated emergency planning, insurance requirements for those at risk and assurance that local governments won't approve new development in areas that can't be reasonably protected.

"A bill by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, ventures into that latter realm, which is why it faces a tough fight today on the Assembly floor. The real estate and development industries are wary of any state attempt to control development in flood plains, even though California faces multibillion-dollar liabilities whenever a levee breaks.

"Wolk's bill, AB 802, would require cities and counties to assess flood hazards when they amend their general plans. This is entirely reasonable. Under state law, local governments must assess seismic hazards and fire dangers when planning development. Given the threat of a Katrina-style flood, local planners should also assess flood risks.

"The question then becomes: What degree of risk? Under Wolk's bill, planners would have to evaluate which areas face the chance of a 200-year flood, roughly the type of flood that swamped New Orleans. The bill wouldn't restrict new development, but it would prompt locals to mitigate and reduce risk.

"The building industry - which helped kill Wolk's bill last year, prior to Katrina - notes that federal and state agencies haven't yet mapped the 200-year flood zone. Uncertainties, they fear, could complicate the planning process and provide legal fodder for no-growth groups.

"Wolk's requirement might tie up some projects, but it also could have many desirable results.

"Since development decisions would hinge on good mapping, FEMA and the state would finally face pressure to produce this cartography. The governor has proposed funding to update flood plain maps.

"Ultimately, better planning will aid, not hurt, the cause of housing. For developers, the worst kind of uncertainty occurs when their properties are underwater."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Building in the Floodplain

This story in the Bee Monday, January 23rd. points up the realities faced by people moving to this area, buying a lovely house in a beautiful neighborhood and then discovering that they are not really very well protected from floods, but no one told them.

The economic realities, as well as the public ones, compel us to come to grips with this disconnect, and work for optimal flood protection, not the after-the-fact type that requires evacuations and flood insurance.

Building on reclaimed flood plains is an ancient practice that pays huge benefits, once the communities involved provide optimal flood protection for their communities, their businesses, their churches, and their Parkways.

Here is an excerpt.

Behind levees, what's real risk?
Floodplain experts say insurance rules map an unverified safety zone.
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Monday, January 23, 2006

James O'Carroll is still amazed at how wrong he was.

The retired teacher had been so glad to get away from the Bay Area's earthquake risk, and so relieved he wouldn't have to worry about flooding, either. After all, he said, the builder of his North Natomas home told him he wasn't required to buy flood insurance.

"For a normal person, if you're told you don't need flood insurance, you deduce that there is no chance of flooding here," he said. "It never entered my head that in a worst-case scenario, we could literally ... be in something between 20 and 26 feet of water."

O'Carroll later bought insurance after news coverage punctured his assumption of safety.

He still wonders, though, why he wasn't required to buy it in the first place and why no one told him more up front when he was signing the reams of paperwork involved in home buying.

Those questions resonate throughout Sacramento, where tens of thousands of people living behind levees are not compelled to buy flood insurance even though the city arguably faces greater risk of catastrophic flooding than any other major metropolitan area in the nation.

That disconnect between actual risk and federal insurance rules has been raised repeatedly by flood experts who contend there's something seriously wrong with the way America thinks about flooding.

A national floodplain management group and state water officials are among those who argue the federal government's flood maps are simplistic and misleading, based on antiquated techniques for determining who is at risk and unverified assumptions about levee strength.

Even worse, they say, is that the official federal floodplain determination that triggers insurance requirements has become enormously influential in development decisions. It guides tens of thousands of communities as they decide how and where to build, and millions of families as they choose where to live and what to insure.

Designed in 1968 and toughened in the 1970s, the National Flood Insurance Program pinpoints flood-prone areas where it calculates the chances of inundation are greater than 1 in 100. The twist is that a federal 100-year floodplain isn't determined by potential storm size alone. It also involves judgments about how levee systems will perform. That means whether a community is judged to be at flood risk has more to do with the state of its dams and levees than its geography.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hetch Hetchy Dam

This Bee Editorial from last Sunday touches on another dam project we want to comment on.

Several days ago, (January 10th, see post) our organization sent out a Press Release in support of a major new dam on the American River to protect the integrity of the Parkway.

That was the right call at the right time and we are hopeful public leadership, understanding the tragic consequences, not only to the Parkway, but to the entire Sacramento community, continuing to loom over us without the 500+ year protection a major dam will provide, will respond positively.

It is also the right call to come out in strong support of another dam project, only this time, the removal of a major dam.

We are in complete agreement with the removal of the Hetch Hetchy dam, if, as current research seems to indicate, the water supply is not endangered.

The value of natural resources is beyond valuing, and, as will be someday so with our fully-restored-to luster Parkway, the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy valley will be a renewed natural resource beyond value, absolutely priceless.

The editorial from the Bee called for support of further study and we heartily concur in the anticipated positive outcome, the restoration of the fabled Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Here is an excerpt:

"Some time next month, the Schwarzenegger administration is expected to release a preliminary study that examines whether something remarkable could happen in Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley.

"Hetch Hetchy has been submerged since 1923 by a dam that supplies the San Francisco Bay Area. The looming question is whether the Bay Area can find enough water if Hetch Hetchy is drained and restored.

"There is reason to think that the answer will be yes, at a cost greater than environmentalists would like, but much less than the numbers San Francisco officials have been throwing around.

"But at this point, the issue really isn't this preliminary finding. The issue is whether it will lead California to revisit big decisions made 90 years ago about one of its most beautiful places.

"The question for the public is: What is the highest, best use of this magnificent valley? The answer can come only through a truly definitive study. And that can happen only with the cooperation of the Schwarzenegger and Bush administrations.

"Count us among those whose gut tells them that historic change is in order. In a future California with perhaps 50 million people yearning for natural respites, Hetch Hetchy is more valuable as a meadow surrounded by stunning waterfalls and granite peaks than as a water tank. "

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Community Responsibility for the Vulnerable

This story from the Bee last Sunday is a tragic reminder of the vulnerability of the homeless and the cruelty of the people responsible for attacking them.

As a community we have a special responsibility to the most vulnerable of our citizens.

In our report on the Lower Reach of the Parkway (see our website at arpps.org/news) one of the solutions we called for in addressing the illegal camping on the Parkway by the homeless is a nationally successful program called Housing First.

This is a program, subsequently approved by the city and county, which involves providing housing for the chronic homeless, those most vulnerable to attacks, before asking them to begin using the social services needed to rebuild their lives.

Though counter-intuitive on many levels, this is a program that has been very successful and is also one that provides the safety and security of a home; and for those who remember the Maslow hierarchy of needs, it is the basic human need for safety and security that must be satisfied before any of the higher human needs or aspirations can be addressed.

This is something we owe the vulnerable of our community, safety and security.

Here is an excerpt.

Faces of fear
Attacks on the homeless are common across the nation, and Sacramento's street people also tell of beatings
By Jocelyn Wiener -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 22, 2006

They attacked him in the dark hours of last Sunday morning, while much of the city slept.

John Jewett, 53 years old and homeless, had hidden himself in a shed on a loading dock near the fancy new midtown Safeway. The young men, three by Jewett's count, arrived around 3 a.m.
While one held him down, he said, another hit him repeatedly in the face with a metal pipe.

Across the country that same day, two teenagers in Fort Lauderdale turned themselves in in connection with the beatings of several homeless men, one of whom died from his injuries.

Their images had been caught on a surveillance camera. The images of Jewett's attackers are seared only in his mind.

The incidents weren't connected, except in relation to a disturbing pathology. Some young men find sport in assaulting the homeless.

From 1999 to 2004, the National Coalition for the Homeless documented 386 attacks on homeless people in 140 cities.

At least 156 homeless people have died from beatings, stabbings or burnings often meted out by strangers. Countless others have been injured. Experts say the assailants tend to be young men. In Sacramento, 48-year-old Vinia Thomas said she was left bloodied after being shot with BB guns and kicked in the head last summer. Fred Finley, 50, said he awoke a few years back to see a grapefruit whizzing toward his face as he slept on church steps.

Jewett emerged from this latest attack with 14 stitches, facial cuts and a bruised jaw. A long thin scar creases his nose from an attack he says the same men carried out a month earlier.

On that occasion, he said, the men beat him with a pipe and a tree branch, splitting his nostril, scratching his cornea, then fleeing as he stumbled, bleeding, down the street. He finally collapsed near a register inside the Safeway, he said.

Jewett and other homeless victims who survive such attacks are left nursing their injuries and puzzling over one hard-to-answer question:


What spurs a group of young men - in Fort Lauderdale or Denver or Seattle or Sacramento - to attack those without the protection of a roof and four walls, many of them suffering from some form of disability or mental illness?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sacramento Flooding, Part Sixteen

This story from the Sunday, January 22 issue of the Bee reminds us again of the vulnerability to our area from flooding, and how the poor, disabled, and frail elderly will suffer the most. The focus here is on evacuation when flooding occurs, and that is certainly appropriate until a more optimal solution, that of stopping the possibility of flooding occurring, or so reducing it that it can safely be said we don’t have to worry about it with daily stories in the Bee about it.

That kind of safety, 1,000 year protection, is the level the Dutch aim for in their flood control projects, Surely we can aim for half of that, 500 year protection, and in the process protect the integrity of our Parkway and the safety of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Here is an excerpt:

“More than 150,000 of Sacramento County's most vulnerable residents - the elderly, the poor and the disabled - live in areas prone to substantial flooding, and local officials acknowledge they don't know whether they could quickly get them to safe ground.

“That worries Lloyd Hudson. A downtown Sacramento resident who lost a leg a few years ago to an infection, Hudson remembers watching news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and seeing how people like him had trouble evacuating New Orleans.

"I wondered how I would get up and get out," said Hudson. He'd have to put on his prosthetic leg "and then I'd get out, but I wouldn't be able to move very fast."

“The poor and immobile tend to get left behind, as news coverage of Katrina showed again and again. Many of New Orleans' poor didn't have cars. Lots of elderly and disabled residents couldn't drive. The city wasn't prepared to get them out, so they were stuck.

“And, much to the disappointment of residents like Hudson, something like that could happen here, say some emergency officials and advocates for the disadvantaged.

“Matching U.S. Census data with state flood maps, the Bee found 54,000 residents listed as elderly, 89,000 listed as poor and 40,000 with a physical disability living in Sacramento County areas that could be under at least 2 feet of water if a bad flood hit - enough to require an evacuation. Those figures include about 25,000 residents who show up two or three times - for example, listed as both elderly and disabled.

"I would suggest to you that perhaps there are even more," said Carole Hopwood, who was manager of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Emergency Operations Division until retiring at the turn of the year. In the event of a serious flood, the division, in conjunction with state and local governments, would be charged with coordinating evacuation efforts.

“Hopwood has major concerns. First, she said, emergency officials don't know where to find all the people who most need help. If immobile residents aren't in a nursing home or receiving in-home health services, chances are the city and county aren't aware of them. Second, even if emergency officials knew exactly where each immobile person lived, they might not be able to get them out in time.

"We simply don't have enough resources to adequately evacuate all these people," she said.

“Hopwood's interim replacement, former fire chief Rick Martinez, agrees more needs to be done. "I think," he said, "there are going to be many more people than we have resources to help."

“A recent training exercise simulating a large-scale evacuation during a disaster did not instill confidence. One blind participant called it a complete flop.

“And while many areas likely would flood slowly in the event of a levee break or breach, that's little solace for the immobile.

“David Mana-ay, chairman of the Sacramento County Disability Advisory Committee, puts it bluntly: If a big flood hit Sacramento tomorrow, some immobile residents likely would die.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Public Discussion of Dam as Flood Protection Option

These letters in the Bee from Friday, January 13th; some asking why the Auburn Dam isn’t mentioned in the Bee’s coverage about flood protection options, plus other flooding related issues, are excellent and clearly indicate the public [if not public leaders] is thoughtfully involved in the discussion about floods and being protected from them.

Here are some excerpts:

First Letter) “Why did the drawdown of Folsom Dam begin so close to the arrival of these intense storms? The long-term forecast predicted warmer, heavier rains than usual, and the series of December and January storms was predicted many days ahead of time. Yet the lowering of water levels occurred only a day or two ahead of their arrival, leaving the rivers at a very high level when the storms began.

The dam, of course, is to protect against drought as well as to control water flow into the Valley, but the consequences of flooding seem more frequent than the risk of drought, and they would be much more grave.”

Second Letter) “I have followed The Bee's excellent series on the flood risks facing our area, but note one omission from the discussion: What impact would building the Auburn Dam have in this equation?

As a relative newcomer to the area, I am somewhat aware of the white hot politics attached to the project (enviros vs. Rep. John Doolittle and developers, etc.), but am very short on a balanced discussion of the role the proposed dam would have on flooding risks.”

Third Letter) “I don't understand why so many people have blinders on when it comes to flood protection.

The worries year after year could be eliminated. We could have clear, clean drinking water, clean electric power, a vast amount of recreation and a 300-year safety net.

If we had the Auburn dam we could hold back water so the Sacramento River doesn't want to flood every year. Don't let the environmental wackos ruin something we really need. The dam would help keep back water pressure on the levees.”

Fourth Letter) “The Jan. 7 article "River flooding catches homeless off guard" suggests these homeless people are "camping" by the river. These people are trespassing. They leave garbage and hazardous waste (feces) where they trespass and make it difficult for those of us who do enjoy the American River Parkway and adjoining areas.”

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sacramento Flooding, National Perspective

This article from last month’s issue of Governing magazine notes, once again, how vulnerable Sacramento is to flooding. What continues to strike me as I continue researching this, is how well local leaders understand the real threat of massive flooding in the Sacramento area, but how little they have done about it.

Here is an excerpt.

“Around the country, 15,000 miles of dirt levees serve as the final line of flood defense for major cities, rural communities and undeveloped farmlands. Federal projects built roughly half, but most are now maintained — often haphazardly — by local governments and flood-control districts. Corps inspectors drive by once a year to check for signs that tree roots, animal burrows or other obvious changes are undermining the structure’s integrity. “It’s not a detailed examination. They can send a ’buck up’ letter if a city is not doing a good job,” says Galloway, now an engineering professor at the University of Maryland.

“If faulty levees fail, Galloway worries that heavily populated parts of St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Tacoma, Los Angeles, St. Paul and Louisville could be flooded. At greatest risk, many experts believe, is California’s state capital. “If I were living in Sacramento,” Galloway says, “I’d be very concerned.”


“Sacramento, in fact, is just as vulnerable as New Orleans. “Katrina was a wake-up call for anybody who lives behind a levee,” says Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo.

“The city grew up where the American River rushes down from a steep Sierra Nevada watershed to feed into the Sacramento River. It relies on 125 miles of earthen levees, many dating to the early 1900s. Quite possibly, those defenses could give way if heavy rains roll in from the Pacific Ocean and melt Sierra Nevada snows above the city. The resulting flood could inundate virtually the whole city, surrounding the California state capitol with water and driving 400,000 residents from their homes.

“In 1862, Governor Leland Stanford was rowed through Sacramento’s streets to take his oath of office in the Capitol. Following that episode, Sacramento tried to protect itself by raising the downtown district by 15 feet and later by building hodgepodge levee defenses. To hold floodwaters upstream, the federal government finished building Folsom Dam on the American River 23 miles above Sacramento; in the mid-1960s, a bypass channel was built to divert 80 percent of the Sacramento River away from the city’s core. But some levees, built when land was still being farmed, were too low and too flimsily maintained to handle even a 50-year flood, leaving Sacramento and the surrounding regions exposed.

“Indeed, Sacramento has eluded close calls in each of the past two decades. In January 1986, jet-stream winds sped warm Pacific rainstorms straight from Hawaii (a phenomenon that’s been dubbed “the Pineapple Express”) and thawed heavy Sierra Nevada snowpacks. For 10 days, “we had a whole series of storm systems charging right at us, and we would have lost our levees if there’d been just a few more hours of rain,” recalls Stein Buer, the Sacramento region’s flood-control chief. Sacramento barely escaped again in the winter of 1997, when the heaviest Pacific storms swerved north of the American River watershed.

“After the near-miss in ’86, local governments began reinforcing levees and raising them by three feet. Two years from now, two-thirds of the city will be protected against a 100-year flood, freeing homeowners from the federal government requirement that they buy flood insurance. “We do think that a 100-year level of protection is pretty minimal,” Fargo says, so California politicians are pressing Congress and the Corps to expand floodwater storage capacity behind Folsom Dam. This summer, however, the Corps tripled its original $215 million cost estimate for Folsom improvements.

“Meanwhile, the metropolitan area’s population of 1.5 million continues to grow, and development is extending onto delta farmlands behind questionable rural levees. This summer, the state agreed to pay $428 million to 3,000 residents whose homes were flooded when the 1986 storms broke one Yuba County levee 40 miles north of the capital. In June 2004, a levee 10 miles from Stockton, California, collapsed suddenly in good weather, and 19 square miles of cropland was flooded under an average of 12 feet of water, causing $100 million in damage. It took seven months to pump the water out and repair the breach.

“With the delta sinking and sea levels rising due to global warming, geologists at the University of California at Davis calculate there’s a two-out-of-three chance in the next 45 years that an earthquake or winter storm will breach enough levees to disrupt water deliveries to Los Angeles and other Southern California cities for months or even years.

”A system designed almost 100 years ago can’t support the amount of change that’s going on here, but so far we’ve shown no willingness to invest enough to fix the problem,” says Jeffrey Mount, one of the UC-Davis scientists. In November, Congress appropriated $38 million over the next year to start beefing up Folsom Dam and keep shoring up Sacramento’s levees. It also approved $12 million to continue Napa’s project and dedicated $750,000 to emergency levee assessments in the vast delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers flow into San Francisco Bay.”

Friday, January 20, 2006

Sacramento Flooding, Part Fifteen

This story in today’s Bee further illustrates, and we need to keep being reminded of it, how connected all of the water containment and control mechanisms are to the potential flooding that can destroy our neighborhoods, our businesses, and our Parkway.

Here is an excerpt, and note the final comment: "...But that might be differant in a bigger storm."

"A weir is a type of dam that holds water in the river during normal flows, but diverts overflow into bypasses when the river rises during flood conditions. The diversion reduces strain on urban levees, and prevents the major rivers from backing up into tributary creeks.

"The Sacramento Weir is the only operable weir on the Sacramento River. Built in 1916, it has 48 wooden gates, each of which has to be opened manually to allow water to flow into the Sacramento Bypass, which then connects to the Yolo Bypass.

"It was originally designed to maintain water velocities in the Sacramento River so that sediment produced by Sierra Nevada gold mining would not accumulate in the riverbed. Some flood control experts have suggested the weir should be opened sooner, or even left open all the time, to improve flood control in urban Sacramento.

"It deserves a current look," Supervisor Susan Peters said.

"At its meeting Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council directed its staff to begin discussions with the state about changing the weir's operating rules.

"The New Year's weekend storms dropped more than 3 inches of rain in 24 hours over many areas of the Sacramento metro area, though it was only considered a 10-year flood event on the American River, Pete Ghelfi, SAFCA's director of engineering, said.

"On some local creeks, however, the storm was bigger. Waters rose both faster and higher because of concentrated rain in the creeks' watersheds.

"The city's director of utilities, Gary Reents, said the weir's current opening criteria did not contribute to any local flooding in the city during the New Year's storms. But that might be different in a bigger storm. "

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Flooding, The Collateral Damage

In this story from today’s Bee (Arden Carmichael Community News) we see the collateral damage from flooding that a major new dam in the American River Watershed would stop, and the possible buy-out cost the County is considering, of condos that flood the most often, are cost savings that need to be factored in, along with water meters, when considering how much the new dam would cost.

Woodlake, a lovely apartment and condominium complex just north of Fair Oaks Blvd between Howe and Fulton, floods all the time (1986, 1997, and this year) because the American River is too full from mandated Folsom Dam releases to absorb the run-off from the sloughs that normally drain it.

Here is an excerpt.

"Supervisor Susan Peters toured her district, which includes Arden Arcade, Carmichael and Foothill Farms, with county water officials. The Woodside condominium complex near Howe Avenue and Sierra Boulevard was one of the worst-hit areas.

"Water flooded 62 condominiums, the third time since 1986 that the complex has been soaked by an overflowing, channeled tributary.

"Strong Ranch Slough normally drains into a pond near Cal Expo, then into the American River. However, when water runs high, the slough can overflow its banks into the Woodside complex.

"It's a very complex engineering problem, because Woodside is the lowest ground in that area," Peters said.

"In the case of the condominiums, parts of Woodside were built onto a low spot right beside what was once a creek and later became a concrete drainage ditch called Strong Ranch Slough.

"The slough collects runoff from thousands of acres, including a smaller channel cutting through Woodside itself.

"Before there were condos or even levees in the neighborhood, Strong Ranch meandered south and west, joining Chicken Ranch Slough near where both tumbled into the American River.

"River levees complicated that easy draining into the American. A detention pond was built beside the levees near Cal Expo, and pumps were added so water from the sloughs could be pumped over the levee into the American River.

"Today, when the river is low, temporary gates are removed, and the sloughs follow gravity into the river. When the American River gets so high it would flow out of the gate, into the basin and down toward the apartments and shopping centers lining Howe Avenue, the gate is closed, and the pumps go to work.

"The system fails when there's too much rain for the ditches to carry. It also fails if there's too much water for the pumps to move.

"In 1986, slough overflows swamped 180 Woodside condos, and residents were aided by boat, according to Bee accounts. In the smaller storm of 1997, the count fell to 84."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Is the Parkway Safe?

Sacramento magazine, in its January 2006 issue, has a very good article on the American River Parkway. Entitled Into the Wild, by Andrea Todd, it is about the safety of the Parkway, an important issue for our organization and an area where we feel the current management has failed in its stewardship.

There is no link to the article but here is the opening paragraph:

“THE 32-MILE AMERICAN RIVER PARKWAY is arguably the greatest natural recreational resource in our state—if not our nation. More people use the parkway’s Jedediah Smith memorial Bicycle Trail (which runs from Discovery Park to Folsom Dam), a county park, on a given day than any other national or state park. Secluded, the parkway is idyllic. BUT IS IT SAFE? From poison oak to perverts, here’s what every trailblazer needs to know before venturing out.”

So pick up a copy at the grocery and give it a read, on pages 102-110.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pineapple Express Coming?

I would suggest you take a peek at the website listed at the end of this story in Sunday’s Bee and read some of the reports posted at the 2005 symposium. I did, and came away with the distinct impression (after working my way through the highly technical language) that the American River is a prime destination for Pineapple Express storms and the subsequent flooding run-off, and the current policy of increasing the flow from the dam to accommodate the storm water is risky at best.

During the 1986 and 1997 storms the flow down the American River reached 115,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Folsom Dam, which is 15,000 cfs over the intended capacity of the levees, and the current plan being considered of building an additional spillway to be able to increase that flow during storms does not seem the best option.

We think a major new dam on the American River, to capture the storm water, makes a lot more sense, for the Parkway and the citizens of Sacramento.
And, speaking for myself, I don't want to have time to "prepare for floods", I want to see them stopped.

Here is an exerpt:

"Somewhere out there is a monster storm that will swamp Sacramento.

"It probably won't arrive this winter, but it's out there.

"And when this Godzilla of a storm takes aim at Northern California, there is a strong chance that Wayne Higgins will be among the first to take notice.

"Higgins, a climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a leading authority on a quirky atmospheric oscillation that encircles the world's tropics. This wave, known as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, moves west to east in cycles of 30 to 60 days. It is weak in some years, strong in others. When it is strong, it can produce tremendous amounts of moisture in the western Pacific.

"When this pool of moisture is blown just east of the island of Borneo, Higgins takes notice, particularly during the winter. "At that point, we know that seven to 10 days later, there is enhanced likelihood for a rainy period on the Pacific Northwest coast," says Higgins, lead climate specialist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

"Sacramento is a long way from Borneo, but our ability to prepare for floods is linked with seeing weather several thousands miles away. When conditions are just right, the jet stream dips down and picks up the accumulated atmospheric moisture of the western Pacific, then hurtles it toward California and Oregon in a narrow ribbon of wet mayhem.

"This type of storm - popularly known as a Pineapple Express - walloped Northern California in 1986 and 1997, dumping two feet of rain in three days in some areas and flooding thousands of homes. Scientists now know much more about how these storms originate; how they shift intensities while approaching the coast; how they dump such enormous volumes of rain on the Sierra and other mountain ranges.

"Yet even with advances in forecasting, meteorologists still have work to do in reliably predicting which river basins will take the brunt of these storms. Precise forecasts could save lives. With a few days of solid warning, emergency responders could evacuate the elderly and infirm. Operators of dams could release extra water and be assured they wouldn't be left with an empty reservoir when the skies clear. "

Monday, January 16, 2006

Parkway Addition

This story from the January 12 issue of the Bee Arden Carmichael Community News, tells the good news of the final pay-off of the loan that added Fair Oaks Bluffs to the Parkway after ten years of effort and a final major donation by a local couple.

However, it doesn’t mention how the original purpose of the American River Parkway Foundation was to build an endowment to purchase additional land for the Parkway but somehow has become only a Parkway maintenance organization, which though obviously needed, sadly removes the larger, and ultimately more essential, need for an endowment fund building organization to acquire additional Parkway land.

This would be a primary function of the nonprofit management we are advocating for the Parkway, to raise such an endowment to provide funding for additional acquisition as well as maintenance.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“A 10-year effort to purchase American River bluff land in Fair Oaks for public use came to a successful conclusion recently - thanks to a generous donation from a Fair Oaks couple and funds from the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.

“Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan in late December presented the Fair Oaks Recreation and Park District with a $35,000 check, which will be used to help pay off a bank loan the district assumed to secure the other half of the 4.5-acre bluff site at Bridge Street. The county parks department owns half of the property.

“Land developers Gerry and Karen Kamilos of Fair Oaks donated $16,198.13, the remaining balance of the $326,000 loan from American River Bank.

“The bluff property will become part of the 23-mile American River Parkway, under the ownership of the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks, Recreation and Open Space.

"This is one achievement that the park district has participated in that I am most proud of," district director Tel Labelle said after receiving the money at a special meeting called by the park district. Parkway supporters also attended to celebrate the milestone occasion.

“In December 2003, the park district took over the loan it had co-signed for Citizens to Save the Bluffs, a grass-roots organization that formed to preserve the scenic cliff from private development.

“The group had raised more than $1 million for the site, including the loan, $50,000 in contingency funds from the park district, $100,000 from an anonymous donor and $250,000 from Sacramento County to match a $250,000 donation from the Thomas P. Raley Foundation. Other individual donations ranged from $25 to $5,000, according to a county news release.

“But Tracy Martin Shearer and Marty Maskall, members of the grass-roots group, said they had encountered fundraising fatigue in the community, and they were unable to pay the $175,000 balance by a February 2004 deadline. The park district has since been struggling to pay the debt, using $55,000 from the recent sale of surplus land to Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sacramento Flooding, Part Fourteen

This article from last Sunday’s Bee describes Sacramento’s increased drainage storage and how it helped during the recent floods, but still notes that the improvements have not helped stop the type of sewage backup that occurred in downtown Sacramento in 2004 and can again. Yuk!!

Excerpts below:

“The heavy rains of last weekend caused sewer pipes to back up, streets to flood, and an unexpected flow of partially treated wastewater into the Sacramento River.

“But however wet and messy it was, the men and women who manage the Sacramento area's sewer and storm drainage systems were grateful things weren't worse.

“That's because the various underground systems are designed to handle up to a 10-year storm event, while the series of storms that dumped five inches or more on the region last weekend were considered a 25-to 50-year event, depending on the location, according to Michael Peterson, principal civil engineer with the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources.

“A 10-year event has a 10 percent chance of happening every year, while a much larger 50-year event has a one in 50 chance of occurring in a given year.

…. “During the past 10 years, the city has spent about $107 million to upgrade the system, which had become notorious for backups during storms. The fixes included vastly increasing the capacity of two large pumping stations, expanding a city treatment plant's capacity to disinfect wastewater and discharge directly into the river during heavy rain events, and installing below-ground storage basins for times of excess rain, Sacramento Utilities Director Gary Reents said.

“During last weekend's storms, the system was effective: The city had just two spots where a small amount of sewage backed up into streets.

“Reents said that if Sacramento received the kind of record-setting rain it got in September 2004, even the latest improvements to the city's sewer and drainage systems could not accommodate the quick rush of water. In the 2004 event, two inches of rain fell in an hour in the downtown area, causing sewage backups that infuriated residents.

"Even with the improvements, there will be storms that are larger than we can accommodate," Reents said.”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Folsom Dam Fix

This article from today’s Bee continues the taboo against discussing a new dam to control floods in the American River Parkway, instead focusing on large releases, which further degrade the Parkway. The throwaway acknowledgement of the proposed raising of Folsom Dam, (a troubling concept on its face) to increase reservoir capacity won’t do much at all to reduce the large releases that degrade the Parkway.

Maintaining a taboo about public discussion of all of the options to control flooding, whether on the Parkway, or in residential and business areas, is a grave disservice and does little to help the public discussion.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Folsom Dam modifications were originally deemed necessary after huge storms in 1986 showed that the eight existing river outlet gates in the main dam were not sufficiently large to release enough water quickly when massive runoff was expected to hit the reservoir.

“The original plan called for enlarging those eight gates and adding two new ones.

“In 1999, Congress authorized a budget of $215 million for the project. But in June 2005, construction firms interested in the job submitted bids as high as $650 million.

“The risk of working on an existing dam - and compromising its limited release capacity during construction - was considered a key factor in the high bids.

“The new approach calls for an auxiliary spillway to be built just south of the existing main dam. This new spillway would include new river outlet gates that could be opened ahead of a storm, like existing gates in the main dam, to empty the reservoir quickly.

“The new gates would be built below the reservoir's maximum water level, but not as deep as the existing gates. This means it is likely they can be built faster, without limiting the dam's current release capacity and without exposing the contractor or the public to as much risk.

“Meanwhile, early research shows the project is likely to achieve the same goal as the original project: giving Sacramento 140-year flood protection by 2013. The city currently has protection from a 100-year flood or a flood with a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

“A related project to increase reservoir capacity by raising Folsom Dam's height, estimated to cost $250 million, would give Sacramento 200-year flood protection.

“The dam raise was originally targeted for completion in 2021. But improved cooperation between the bureau and the corps, better integration of the two projects and simpler construction methods means this ultimate goal could be reached sooner, Matsui said.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

American River Dam, Background Information

On January 10, 2006, our organization made the decision to support the construction of a major new dam on the American River, including any of its forks, to protect the integrity of the Parkway for the year-round use of the citizens of the Sacramento region, and to provide optimal conditions for the habitat and wildlife of the Parkway.

The key aspect of protecting the integrity of the Parkway is maintaining river flows and temperature in the optimal range for protection of the recreational experience and the health of the salmon. Flood condition flows of 20,000 to 35,000 (and even 115,000 cubic feet per second as in 1986 and 1997) are several times the release levels for optimal protection and result in serious degradation of the Parkway experience.

Our decision is a Parkway centric decision congruent with our mission-driven philosophy that the 5,000 acres of the Parkway comprise the most important acreage in the Sacramento region. We also understand not all agree with this priority and that is one reason the Parkway struggles financially and remains low on the funding priority list.

Our reasoning behind this decision—and our mission of “Preserve, Protect, and Strengthen the American River Parkway, Our Community’s Natural Heart”—is based, primarily, on these factors:

The historical importance of the American River and the Parkway.

1) In 1848 gold was discovered at Coloma on the American River, and this was an event of international proportion, that while clearly tragic for many, was an epic time, as H. W. Brands in his book The Age of Gold: the California Gold Rush and the New American Dream (2002) has noted:

“Yet for all its sordid side, the new American dream was an enormously creative force. It unleashed the energies of the American people, and of the many millions of foreigners who, drawn by this compelling dream, chose to become Americans. (It also unleashed the energies of those who stayed in other countries—or in some important cases, returned to other countries from America—and emulated the Argonauts of California.) It raised the American standard of living beyond anything ever achieved so broadly. It afforded the most basic freedom—freedom from want—to more people than had ever enjoyed such release. And it gave unprecedented meaning to that really revolutionary idea of Thomas Jefferson: that humans have a right to the pursuit of happiness.” (p. 443-444)

2) A personal story: Several years ago while visiting Coloma, where gold was discovered in 1948, State Parks Ranger Sugarman related a story which resonated with me, and has always put the discovery of gold into the context I think it fully deserves.

He was guiding a group of Japanese tourists around the park, and while talking to them, a small group broke off and went to the specific site, on the American River South Fork, where gold was first taken out by James Marshall. They stood there for awhile, quietly talking among themselves, and then, while standing there, bowed very formally towards the river. Later, he asked them why they were bowing, and they told him that they were honoring, “the place where America found her power.”

The recreational importance of the Parkway

1) Lake Natoma was rated “Best All Round Rowing Facility in North America”, by Rowing News, in its April 6, 2003 issue, noting; “As an all-around facility, Lake Natoma may be the closest North America comes to a Bled or Lucerne.”

2) The American River Bike Trail is rated #9 in the country by Trails.com who note it is: “Arguably one of the most successful and beautifully paved bike trails in northern California, this 32 mile gem of a trail stretches from downtown Sacramento eastward to Folsom Dam (64 mile round trip).”

3) “The parkway gets a million more visitors than does Yosemite National Park.” Parkway in Peril, Sacramento Bee Editorial, January 2, 2004.

The economic importance of the Parkway

1) It is an economic engine that “generates an estimated $259,034,030 in annual economic activity in the local economy.” American River Parkway: Financial Needs Study. Dangermond Group: (August 10, 2000) (Page 3)

2) The quality of life aspect of the Parkway is priceless, through recent research indicates quality of life resources provide substantial economic, social, and spiritual benefits.

The current water storage capacity is too small to adequately control the water flow and temperature, under large and periodic run-off conditions, to protect the recreational, habitat, and wildlife integrity of the Parkway.

1) The capacity of Folsom Lake is inadequate to store the water needed to provide adequate water temperature and flows for optimal recreational, habitat, and wildlife conditions during dry years, and to capture overflow during wet years.

The 500 year protection from flooding a major new dam will provide to the Sacramento community.

1) Though our mission and our perspective is Parkway centric, the construction of a major new dam on the American River will also provide substantial (500 year) flood protection, water supply, and power generation resources to the Sacramento region, of which the Parkway is the natural heart.

We feel it is important to lend our perspective to this public debate during this time of urgent investigation resulting from the recent New Orleans flooding and the New Year’s scare here in Sacramento. It is during these windows of policy opportunity that public engagement and education occur.

Our organizational research will continue, and we will specify a particular dam size, location, and design in our report on water storage and supply by September 24, 2006.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Press Release, American River Dam

For Immediate Release January 10, 2006 Sacramento, California


Sacramento, CA: January 10, 2006: It is time for those concerned about the American River Parkway to join with us in announcing support for the construction of a major new dam on the American River to capture and control the water, which, through flood-condition releases from Folsom Dam is devastating one of the most important parkways in the country.

In addition to the obvious benefit to the Sacramento region’s citizens from a major new dam offering 500 year—or more—flood protection, the protection of the Parkway from flooding will pay substantial recreational and habitat dividends, allowing a deeper, more stable level of year-round enjoyment.

After the evidence of New Orleans, and local flood conditions of the past few weeks, it is clear that in order to protect the Parkway’s recreational and natural assets for use by the citizens of Sacramento and provide optimal conditions for the salmon, a major new dam needs to be built somewhere on the American River.

The Parkway river flows during the first weeks of January, due to the need to release water from Folsom Lake to accommodate the expected run-offs from new storms, were running at 35,000 cubic feet per second, about ten times the optimal flow for human and salmon use.

It is only through the capture of the watershed run-off and the subsequent creation of the lake behind a new dam, that controlled flows and temperature will be available for the salmon and the year-round recreational needs of the growing population of the Sacramento region.

The Auburn Dam, planned for the North Fork of the American River, is the only proposal currently being put forth, and while there are some indications the proposed storage lake it would create needs to be larger, we will follow the congressional evaluation of that project to see if it addresses the demands imposed on the Parkway at the highest run-off levels.

Whatever comes from that evaluation, the fact remains, we need a major new dam on the American River, whether it is the Auburn Dam or some other proposal yet to emerge.

Michael Rushford, President
Deborah Baron, Executive Director
David H. Lukenbill, Senior Policy Director
American River Parkway Preservation Society (ARPPS)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Illegal Camping on the Parkway

This story from Saturday’s Bee remind us of why the Parkway adjacent communities burdened by illegal camping of the homeless and the related crime, and consequently unable to safely use their part of the Parkway, get so frustrated by the coverage of the camping.

This story never mentions that the camping is illegal but clearly details that it is just part of the ”neighborhood”, as is the sprawling complex serving the homeless established on North 12th Street.

Here is an excerpt:

“Not far from Tracey Knickerbocker's camp, the water was rising. But Knickerbocker doesn't have a television or a radio. She doesn't read the newspaper. As a result, she says, she didn't know.

“Knickerbocker lives with her boyfriend in a tent by the American River. She says she realized the river was coming up during last week's storms only after her boyfriend got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He put his foot on the ground - they sleep on a cot - and found the bottom of the tent had filled with water.

“Knickerbocker says she lost everything fleeing the river. Her bicycle. Her trailer. Her mattress. Her legal papers. Her stove. Her books. Her bags of Kool Aid.

"Everything that makes it a little bit more comfortable out here."

“Many encampments were swallowed by the rising waters. Knickerbocker, and other homeless people, say they didn't flee to higher ground because they weren't warned. Loaves & Fishes officials say they didn't warn them because they didn't realize the water was coming up.

"It just breaks my heart because this is people's neighborhoods, this is where they live, and it's all underwater," said Linda Kelly, spiritual director of the homeless services complex on 12th and North C streets.

“City officials say they called Loaves & Fishes to advise them to warn their guests. Staff members at Loaves & Fishes say they normally get contacted, but received no such warning this time.”

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sacramento Flooding, Part Thirteen

This story from today's Bee is another installment of their series, Tempting Fate, about flooding in Sacramento, and looks at the costs reported so far from the various jurisdictions around the state associated with our recent storms.

The total is about $200 million so far, with no figures from Sacramento County yet.

With the flooding on the Parkway, and the muddy water possibly indicating erosion, there could be substantial damage.

Here is an excerpt.

“Initial estimates statewide totaled more than $200 million, according to the state Office of Emergency Services. But many rain-soaked areas remained under water, and "the information is changing every day," OES spokeswoman Tina Walker said Thursday.

“In the Sacramento area, many local agencies were still compiling cost estimates Thursday.

“The totals include overtime pay for scores of fire, police, sanitation, sewage, transportation, utility and other public employees called in on a holiday weekend.

“Often working around the clock, they patrolled rivers and levees, staffed emergency operations centers, opened evacuation shelters, and filled and gave away thousands of sandbags.

“In addition, inspectors have been assessing damage to levees, roads, bridges, buildings and drainage culverts.

“Strong winds and falling trees also downed hundreds of utility poles and miles of power lines, causing blackouts for thousands of customers served by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

“Estimates reported to the state OES included $1.4 million in El Dorado County and about $1 million in Yolo County.

“Dan McCanta, Yolo County emergency service coordinator, said Yolo's figure was taking into account mostly just the damage to canals operated by the Yolo County Flood Control Water Conservation Agency.

"That's all we can see from the air at this point," McCanta said. "There's still more we'll be looking at on the ground when we can."

"In Placer County, damages appeared to be in the same ballpark.

"It looks like we'll have more than $1 million," spokeswoman Anita Yoder said. The estimate includes costs for cities and the unincorporated area of the county, she said.

“Figures for Sacramento County were not available Thursday, spokeswoman Megan MacPherson said."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Parkway Flooding

This story in today’s Bee informs us of what most of us know, the Parkway is flooding and eroding farther every day the 35,000 cubic feet per second releases from the dam continue to open space in Folsom Lake, for the run-off from any new storms approaching.

Saw a bunch of wild turkeys walking around a neighborhood this morning quite a way from their home on the Parkway and who can blame them right now, it’s really muddy and fast flowing out there and not much use for humans or critters.
Here are some excerpts.

“While some area residents are saddled with flooded homes and yards, many others are flocking to area waterways simply to marvel and gawk and point at all that power, now barely contained. The American River, far higher and faster than normal, has become a draw since the holiday season.

“People in slickers and galoshes have made it to the river's banks for a close-up look, talking about trees now under water, fishing spots that used to be, little islands completely submerged, all the debris floating in the now-murky water.

“Sightings of people actually in the high water are few and far between with the river rushing at approximately 35,000 cubic feet per second, though a kayaker was spotted Wednesday in Fair Oaks and a fisherman wading waist-deep in the water near the Nimbus Dam's 14 open gates had to be told by authorities to get out.

"There's no way I would be in the water now. It's just way too dangerous," said Jim Jones, a longtime local fisherman who has put his fishing gear away until the waters calm down.

… “Nearby, Bernard Hattig, 54, parked his mountain bike near the Nimbus fish hatchery ladder and looked out at the water, faster and louder - and muddier - than he's used to.

"It's pretty impressive seeing Mother Nature acting up," he said. "You can see the definite chocolate color of the water, which shows it's definitely a flood. The river is known for being so clear, so there's a lot of erosion happening."

“Michael Keck and girlfriend Lisa Nelson decided to take a lunchtime stroll to view the American River.

"Wow, it's pretty high and pretty muddy," said Keck. "It's going to take awhile to clear up."

I'll say!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sacramento Flooding Part Twelve

This story, continuing the Bee’s coverage of Sacramento flooding, went from speculation to reality over the holidays and we suddenly realize, as if we needed another reminder, that we are even less prepared than before. The fact that funds were reduced for flood control after the 1997 floods is astounding.

Here is an excerpt.

"The fusillade of storms that shot through the north state finally went silent Tuesday, leaving state water officials relieved this time around, but deeply worried that they'll be stretched too thin for the monster storm that will strike one day.

"The state's flood-fighting division hasn't fully rebounded from budget cuts that stripped it of a third of its staff since the major floods of 1997.

"While it handled these storms well, "we do not have trained staff and other resources needed for a much larger event, such as 1997 and 1986," said Jay Punia, flood operations branch chief of the state Department of Water Resources.

"The department has preliminarily pegged the Dec. 31 to Jan. 2 series of storms over the American River watershed as somewhere between a 10-and 20-year storm, said Arthur Hinojosa, chief of the department's hydrology branch.

"It was not a big storm at all, and you saw what it did to our system. We handled this one OK, but there were problems all over place," he said. "It is very intimidating. We need to improve this system."

"By comparison, the storm that parked over the Russian and Napa river watersheds, causing widespread flooding in both areas, could well turn out to be a 100-year storm, one with only a 1 percent shot of striking in any given year, Hinojosa added.

"He doesn't even want to think about what a 100-year storm would do to the Central Valley.
For exhausted emergency crews, those who helplessly watched creeks rise into their homes, and those who escaped flooding, this one was rough enough.

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger broadened his emergency declarations Tuesday to include a total of 23 counties, and his Office of Emergency Services said damages are likely to reach at least $100 million.

"During the storms, state engineers and flood specialists responded to more than 40 calls for help with troubled levees, two dozen in the Delta where several islands and small communities were briefly evacuated."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What a week!

During the time away from our blog we have seen, in the most dramatic fashion, why it is crucial to control the flow from the American River Watershed at a much more effective way than we have so far.

The rising waters have pretty much submerged the Parkway and the damage will surely be high.

The dam is currently releasing water at about 32,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) which is about ten times the optimal release for the Parkway, the people, and the salmon.

What we are learning is that the flood protection standard currently used by local public leadership as adequate is not so at all.

The 100 year protection has almost broken at least three times in the last 20 years, and the 200 year protection being proclaimed as the solution, even if twice as good, still can’t give us too much of a sense of security.

We probably need to be looking at a much higher level of protection, more in line with the Dutch, who think in terms of 1,000 years.

Water storage and supply is our focus for this year and we have just begun to study it, but the events of the past ten days, in light of New Orleans, are certainly a robust way to begin our focus, and we can already draw one obvious conclusion; we need to control the water much better than we are.

Here is a related letter to the Bee, from our board president, published today:

Wondering about Auburn dam

The winter storm season is just beginning and water control officials are already warning us about the possibility of flooding. When I think about the current 32,000 cubic feet-per-second-release from Folsom Dam, I wonder if the levees can take the strain. I worry about the lives, homes and jobs that will be lost if the levees fail. I wonder if a few years from now we might wish we could have stored that water to maintain river flows for fish, wildlife and people during a drought.

I wonder about the cost Sacramento County residents are paying to install meters and the spike in our water bills during dry years. I wonder if we could be making clean, cheap electric power with the millions of gallons of water currently rushing into the ocean.

Then I wonder how many floods, droughts and brownouts Northern California must suffer before the people doing the suffering start holding city, county and state leaders responsible for wasting the last 40 years opposing and obstructing the construction of the Auburn dam.

- Michael Rushford, Carmichael