Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Levee Repair

Update on current levee repair in California.

California races to repair levee system
Posted 11/26/2006 9:59 PM ET
By John Ritter, USA TODAY

SACRAMENTO — In satellite photos, California's Central Valley sticks out as one of the planet's most prominent features, a great gouge in the landscape that looks as if a giant fingernail plowed through the center of the state.

The valley is broad and flat and great for agriculture. That also makes it prone to severe flooding, disasters that a century-old maze of levees is supposed to prevent. But California's neglected flood defenses are in such poor shape that voters on Nov. 7 approved nearly $5 billion in borrowing to shore up the USA's largest and most complex levee system outside the Mississippi Valley.

That comes on top of $500 million approved by the Legislature after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an emergency in February.

Repairing more than 100 levees deemed "critical" because they protect urban areas is a race against time as winter rains approach.

"Right now we're putting Band-Aids on the patient," says Jeff Mount, a geology professor at the University of California, Davis. "These repairs are the equivalent of patching a bald tire. We've got to figure out what we're going to do to replace the tire."

The state's long-term commitment to redesign and overhaul its levees, using some of the bond money, butts up against a growing population — 17.6 million more people by 2050, the state estimates — and the spread of housing onto flood plains that puts tens of thousands of people at risk. Cities often oppose curbing development to avoid flood risks, and the idea of the state pre-empting local land-use decisions is politically toxic.