Friday, February 10, 2006

Flooding Liability

An important thing to note about this discussion, in yesterday's Bee, of liability from flooding is the limited options mentioned, primarily stopping development in flood prone areas by issue advocacy groups, rather than stopping flooding itself, which we would like to hear about from public leadership.

Helping after the fact of tragedy is good, but if you can stop the tragedy from occurring, that is even better.

Here is an excerpt.

Who pays if Valley floods?
The state does, but legislation wants to spread the burden.
By Terri Hardy and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writers Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 9, 2006

If a levee breaks in the Central Valley and nearby homes are flooded, who should be responsible for the damages - the state or the local government?

While the state now bears that burden, language tucked into legislation that would enact Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's flood and water bond seeks to transfer at least some of the liability to cities and counties.

Although even one of the bill's authors expects the provision to be altered before lawmakers are through, it is focusing debate on one of the state's major flood worries: how to best share the burden if levees fail.

"The local governments will become the deep pockets," said Yvonne Hunter, legislative representative for the League of California Cities, pointing out that the state manages the levees. "It's simply unfair."

Les Harder, chief of the state Department of Water Resources' flood-management division, countered that cities and counties decide where homes are built, and should share liability if those homes are flooded.

"There's a disconnect," Harder said. "If cities and counties were going to be sharing some of the liability, they would probably have a higher interest in how to plan for flood control, and how they plan for development."

Schwarzenegger has proposed a series of bonds for public infrastructure to be issued over 10 years, including a total of $9 billion in general obligation bonds for flood control and water improvements.

A provision of SB 1166, co-written by Sens. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Mike Machado, D-Linden, says that before state bond money is used to patch up erosion or otherwise repair levees, the local maintenance district must first agree to take on liability if the levee fails.

In addition, before bond money can be spent to improve levees in urban areas, cities and counties whose populations depend on levees would also have to accept legal liability.

Harder said that in the event of a major flood, the state wouldn't escape responsibility.

"The first location for liability would be transferred to cities and counties, and if it bankrupts them, liability would roll to the state," Harder said.

The provision is raising eyebrows among cities, counties and even some of those who have argued that jurisdictions approving development behind levees should bear a share of the risk.

Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said she was unfamiliar with the legislation, but she opposed the concept of more liability transferred to cities.