Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Levees in Disrepair

This article from the Bee of Wednesday February 22, 2006 says the levees are in bad shape, even worse than we already knew, and it is continuing validation that something desperately needs to be done to provide flood protection to Sacramento.

One problem with levees as the major flood protection tool, is that they are continually worn down by the normal high-water periods of heavy winter and spring storms, on the American River especially, and without seeking water storage capacity further upstream to hold the run-off they will need to be adequately maintained forever, which we see has not been happening.

Dams, due to their centrality of location and as there is only one of them to maintain, and the possibility of catastrophe being so much larger if neglected, tends to cause their upkeep to be kept up.

Sometimes the best public policy is one, which not only does the job, but leaves little choice for future compliance around maintenance issues.

Here is an excerpt.

Group gives levees poor grade
Valley system pulls a D overall from engineers' study
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, February 22, 2006

If the Central Valley flood protection system was hoping to finish high school, it would need some serious tutoring.

On Tuesday, an engineering trade group released a report card on the valley's levees to draw attention in simple terms to their dire condition. The results are not something you'd want to show Mom and Dad: The system as a whole, consisting of more than 2,500 miles of levees, got a D grade. Some areas did worse.

"A 'D' is like running around on bald tires," said Tom Smith, chairman of the committee that assigned the grades. "A 'D' is a warning sign. Maybe we've got a few more miles before a tire blows out."

The report card was produced by the Sacramento chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and is the first in a series of report cards planned on the valley's infrastructure.

A committee of six engineers worked on the levee report. All are private engineering consultants who design and build levees for government agencies, including the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

They estimate repairing the Valley's levees will cost $12 billion, and they hope to encourage politicians to devote more public spending to infrastructure, which in turn will mean more work for engineers.

The group will present its findings to members of the state Legislature in a series of meetings today.

Smith, an engineer and manager of the Sacramento office of Ayres Associates, a consultant to the corps, said his members also feel a strong sense of personal responsibility about the poor grades.

"I don't want to see a failure on my watch," Smith said. "In the past, the engineers that have been real knowledgeable have been too quiet. If we continue to accept D's as a passing grade, we're going to be hurt."

Most of the Valley's levees were built more than 100 years ago, often by the most simple means: scraping muck and sand out of river bottoms and piling it along each side.

Some have been shored up over the last 50 years using modern techniques. But even these, in many cases, have not been adequately maintained.

More importantly, none of them was built to protect human lives. Instead, they were built mainly to protect crops. To protect people in a rapidly urbanizing valley, they must be bigger and stronger.