Sunday, October 29, 2006

West Sacramento Fixes Own Levees

Public leadership with clear concern about their community, and moving to use existing money to fix the levees and then ask for federal reimbursement rather than getting the federal money first, is a real rarity and should certainly be emulated on this side of the river.

An excerpt.

W. Sac levees under study
City officials plan a closer look at flood protection touted as region's finest.
By Deb Kollars - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Sunday, October 29, 2006

West Sacramento has begun an aggressive effort to study and strengthen the levees surrounding the community after years of calling its flood protection the best in the region.

City leaders are hiring engineers and ordering core samples from deep within levees. They are drawing up a plan for a new assessment on property owners to pay for flood-control improvements.

And in upcoming weeks, they will be urging residents to prepare for a flood emergency and -- in a message West Sacramentans have not heard from City Hall in recent memory -- to buy flood insurance even though it is not officially required.

"We've come to realize you don't just build levees and go home," said Stephen Patek, director of public works and community development.

On Wednesday, the City Council will be asked to approve spending about $4 million to expand current geotechnical studies to include all the levees protecting the city. The city has already spent $1 million on levee stability studies; results should be available early next year.

According to Patek and other city leaders, there is good reason to investigate the flood-control system.

West Sacramento, which sits across the Sacramento River to the west of downtown Sacramento, is wrapped on all sides and split down the center by bodies of water: the winding river on the east; the Sacramento and Yolo bypasses to the north and west; and the Deep Water Ship Channel running through town.

"We are completely surrounded by levees," City Manager Toby Ross said.

In recent years, West Sacramento, which has been growing quickly, has assured developers and residents that it had minimal flood risks because of work done on levees during the past two decades.

The levee projects were substantial, and left the city believing it had as much as 300-year flood protection -- meaning levees were believed capable of withstanding gigantic storms with a one-in-300 chance of occurring in any given year.

By contrast, other communities in the region have struggled to achieve 100-year protection, a much lower safety threshold.

Like many cities that have re-evaluated after the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, West Sacramento is no longer sure about its flood security.