Saturday, September 30, 2006

Water Letters

Good group of letters today on water issues.

A sampling.

Letters: Water, PG&E, spinach, etc.

Army Corps hasn't made its case
- Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, September 30, 2006

Re "A lamentable loss," Sept. 23: This editorial indicated The Bee supports a "traditional levee" as the safest option for the Mayhew levee project. This conclusion is premature at best.
In 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to the Butterfield-Riviera East community the use of a floodwall to spare two of the heritage oaks that would need to be removed for a conventional levee. In 2003, staff of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) proposed the use of a floodwall partially screened with dirt to spare all three of the heritage oaks. SAFCA staff said that the corps had accepted that design.

Now, in 2006, the corps has reversed course and announced that it would only certify a conventional levee for FEMA 100-year flood protection. Clearly, this decision must rest on fairly subtle details. The corps has not released the final environmental document for the project, or any technical justification for the FEMA certification decision. There have been serious technical errors in some previous corps documents on the project. It is premature and prejudicial to agree that the corps decision is correct until the supporting documents are released and scrutinized by the public.

- James Morgan, Sacramento

What worked in New Orleans

Re "A lamentable loss," Sept. 23: The editorial laments the loss of three large oak trees in the American River Parkway adjacent to the Mayhew levee that will be removed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installs a new, wider, higher earthen levee instead of using a partially screened T-wall floodwall in the area of these trees. (To put it simply, the T-wall looks like the letter T upside down, with the bottom buried in the subsurface.) The editorial notes the failure of floodwalls in New Orleans and states that a traditional levee would be safer.

Actually, it was traditional levees, broader than those proposed for Mayhew, and I-wall type floodwalls (they look like the letter I) that failed. The T-wall type of floodwall did not fail in the New Orleans area. In fact, the corps is installing T-walls in that area to increase flood protection in a number of places. It has always been the hope that if the corps installed a section of properly engineered T-wall as part of the new Mayhew levee system, it would not only save three large oaks, plus other trees and plants, and preserve more of the parkway, but it would also, and most importantly, offer equal or better flood protection.

- Joseph O'Connor, Sacramento

Run river

Re "San Joaquin revival," Sept. 27: I appreciated this editorial on the San Joaquin River agreement that asks whether the restoration will work. As one of the team of scientists who designed the proposed flow regime, I naturally think the answer is yes, although for a smaller version of the original river. One constraint on the design was that, realistically, we could only have as much water as has been used for environmental flows in other diverted rivers.

It is important to recognize that the restoration of the San Joaquin is about much more than salmon. The return to a living river will result in return of native fishes, the creation of habitats for songbirds, native plants and other animals, the enhancement of fisheries and all the amenities that a flowing river provides for the human residents of California. The price tag for bringing back the river seems high, but this is the cost of fixing a long-neglected channel using relatively small amounts of water. With higher flows, this price tag would likely be lower because of the self-healing properties of a natural flow regime. Once the river is flowing again, the costs of restoration will seem trivial compared to the benefits.

- Peter B. Moyle, Davis