Saturday, December 02, 2006

Levees & Growth in Natomas

While agreeing that neighborhoods should have adequate flood protection prior to people living in them, it is also clear that public leadership has the primary responsibility to provide for the safety of the public from natural disasters, as it is able.

Having already failed in that, by opening Natomas to development without securing adequate flood protection, it now has to somehow find a way out of the quandary it has created for itself.

One policy suggestion: adopt a plan to attain 500 year flood protection in 20 years, which may be as difficult as eliminating homelessness in 10 years but nevertheless, would be a good policy decision and will indicate local leadership takes flood protection as seriously as homelessness.

Levees trigger growth warning
Consider a building moratorium in exposed Natomas, state says.
By Matt Weiser - Bee Staff WriterPublished 12:00 am PST Saturday, December 2, 2006

State flood control officials want Sacramento to consider halting development in the fast-growing Natomas area because of a recent downgrade in the safety rating of its protective levees.

The request came in a letter to Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and county officials on Nov. 21 from Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

DWR has no authority over urban development. But because it is legally responsible for Natomas flood control levees, the letter increases long-standing tension regarding new development and flood protection in the area.

"It's fair for them to raise the concern and our job now is to really look at this letter and this new information," Fargo, a Natomas resident, said Friday. "We're not in denial over this and we're just trying to make sure that we make a wise decision."

But county Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who represents Natomas, said the state is meddling in local land-use policy.

"The bottom line is, I don't think the letter was necessary and I'm disappointed to see it," he said.

Natomas is home to 67,000 people, and more than 10,000 new homes could be built there in the next decade. It also is one of the Valley's most dangerous floodplains: A Natomas levee failure could cause water depths greater than 20 feet in places.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ruled in July that many Natomas levees do not meet the 100-year flood standard -- primarily because of new, stricter underseepage criteria. The ruling came despite $57 million spent to reach the 100-year standard during a prior building moratorium that lasted eight years.

The 100-year standard, considered minimal for urban areas, means the region can withstand a flood with a 1 percent chance of striking in any given year.

Since that July announcement, the City Council and county Board of Supervisors have already considered and rejected development restrictions in Natomas.