Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Emergency Proclamation on Levees

We couldn’t ask for a better result of the levee tours than this story from the Bee last Saturday announcing an emergency proclamation from the Governor.

An excerpt.

Levee emergency declared
Governor moves to speed repairs at critical sites.
By Deb Kollars and Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff WritersPublished 2:15 am PST Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday for the Central Valley's levee system and announced plans to spend up to $100 million over the next several months to repair 24 critical erosion sites.

Many of the sites are along the Sacramento River on levees that protect urban areas of the Sacramento region, including the Pocket neighborhood. Flood leaders fear the crumbling sites could give way in a big storm.

The Republican governor made the rapid decision to declare an emergency after taking a helicopter tour Wednesday over the American and Sacramento rivers with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other congressional leaders.

Given the number of homes, businesses and people at risk, Schwarzenegger said, he felt a responsibility to move fast.

"I don't want to be in the situation they were in New Orleans," he said, speaking to reporters at the Republican Party convention in San Jose on Friday evening.

"Two days ago, we took a tour by helicopter to see our whole levee system. It became really clear then that we are not really responding fast enough in order to rebuild our levees."

The money will come from California's reserve fund for economic uncertainties. The emergency declaration means the state will be able to set aside state environmental and contracting regulations to hasten repair of individual erosion sites.

State and local leaders hope to complete the work before the next flood season begins in late fall, said Lester Snow, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

The department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified the weak spots during boat tours of the Sacramento River system last fall. Scientists and engineers identified about 100 serious erosion sites; 24 were deemed "critical," Snow said.

The critical label means the river has eaten away at the bank, edging near the top of the levee and making failure a possibility.

"These erosion sites could actually fail the next time there is a major flood event," Snow said Friday.

The governor also plans to ask President Bush to declare a federal state of emergency, which would allow federal environmental regulations also to be set aside during site repairs.

New Flood Protection Coalition?

This story in the Thursday, February 23, 2006 edition of the Bee, signifies a potentially wonderful first step in renewing the flood protection coalition, though with different politicians, that several years ago resulted in the approval of the Auburn Dam, promising 500 year flood protection for Sacramento.

The politics are still very dicey, but as one participant in the outing to inspect the levees mentioned, the folks along the Santa Ana River in Southern California did it and secured $1.4 billion for flood protection, and on a much less threatening situation in terms of the potential size of the disaster than exists here, so working together does, as it always has, still work.

Here is an excerpt.

Drive to fix levees boosted
Congressional team, after tour, vows to seek more funding.
By Deb Kollars -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 23, 2006

A helicopter tour Wednesday of the region's river levees so punctuated the flooding risks in the capital that state Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other congressional leaders vowed to seek emergency funding in Washington and to help Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger get a state bond issue passed.

The aerial excursion over the American, Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers was an eye-opener.

"You can have all of that area inundated by water?" Feinstein asked through her on-board headset as she passed over the southern end of Natomas, a growing region north of downtown vulnerable to deep flooding.

While in the air, the Democratic senator turned from asking technical questions about levees to asking her seatmate, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, whether he thought they could secure $36 million in extra federal dollars to help with a package of urgent levee repairs in Sacramento.

By the time they hit the ground, the two were talking strategies for getting it done.

Area flood control agencies received close to $40 million in federal funds for the current year, said a spokeswoman for Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, who joined her congressional colleagues on the tour. But the agencies needed almost twice that much to complete the work they were ready to do this year.

If the supplemental funding can be secured through an emergency appropriation bill - Pombo and Feinstein stressed it would be difficult in the tight budget climate - it would include $17 million for Pocket-area levees. Right now, the neighborhood does not even have the 100-year protection considered minimal by federal standards.

"We think that's an emergency," Feinstein said during a news conference on a Pocket levee following the tour. "We will try very hard to get it."

Feinstein, Pombo and Matsui were among a contingent of elected officials who joined the Republican governor in what was billed as a bipartisan effort to find solutions for Sacramento's flood control problems.

Others on Wednesday's tour: Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and a representative for California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Leaders for the state Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency also took part.

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.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mandatory Flood Insurance? Part Two

This article from the Bee Tuesday February 21, 2006 continues the flood insurance discussion.

I’m sure I’m missing something, but isn’t there some responsibility of public leadership to protect the public from natural disasters through wise policies that reduce their potential occurrence, when the technological solutions are available, like flooding or in another public safety issue, crime.

Rather than penalizing the victim of flooding or crime, shouldn’t public leadership be using those solutions available to protect the public from being victimized in the first place?

Three strikes and more prisons have reduced the crime rate substantially and the public is much safer as a result.

The Dutch accept nothing less than 1,000 year flood protection in the urban planning and they have virtually reduced flooding to zilch, so the technology is available.

What are they doing that we can’t?

Here is an excerpt.

Areas at higher risk may face new rules
Homes repeatedly hit by floods may be penalized as national costs grow.
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Barry Cecil wanted a home that would be a project, and he knew he'd found it in the vacant, flood-damaged place on a pretty creekside lot in Citrus Heights.

He didn't know that federal flood insurance had paid out four different claims to previous owners, totaling more than the house was worth, according to city records.

"That's crazy," said his wife, Lynn Cecil, shaking her head. But it's not uncommon.

As undaunted as a kid with a sandcastle, Americans build and are flooded, build and are flooded, helped by special insurance policies designed and backed by the federal government.

From Sacramento to New Orleans, Guerneville to Miami, the National Flood Insurance Program has spent billions to rebuild the same houses the same way to face the same danger.

Now, with the program virtually bankrupted by 2005 hurricane losses, questions about its cost and effectiveness are growing increasingly pointed in Washington.

Some are even suggesting that if flood insurance cannot be fixed, it should simply be abolished.
The system is so plagued by bad maps, subsidies and shoddy enforcement that it runs the risk of being "a danger to the nation," J. Robert Hunter, one of its former administrators and now a consumer advocate, said in written testimony this month to the Senate Banking Committee.

The committee's chair, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., is considering a complete overhaul to restore the program's fiscal health, said spokesman Andrew Gray.

Nothing is off the table, said Gray, including policies that are basically "giving a subsidy to people to live in harm's way."

Some of the options being discussed in Washington could have a major impact in thousands of flood-prone communities, including Sacramento.

Among them are ending subsidized insurance rates, denying coverage altogether for some homes or areas, spending more to prevent repeat flooding, and requiring many more people to buy flood insurance.

Some who have counted on flood insurance say it wouldn't be fair to change the rules on them now.

Mandatory Flood Insurance?

This article from the Bee on Tuesday February 21, 2006, concerns mandatory flood insurance.

Hmmm, mandatory flood insurance for the entire Sacramento region when only about 130 properties are designated as problematic? And I saw no mention of flood insurance for the parkway, which floods virtually every year the rainfall is a little above normal, causing damage that taxpayers pay for.

Here is an excerpt.

Bill opens flood debate
It would require most Sacramentans to buy insurance coverage.
By Jim Sanders -- Bee Capitol Bureau Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Virtually every Sacramento home or business owner, and hundreds of thousands statewide, would be required to buy federal flood insurance under a new legislative proposal.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, who is pushing the measure, said the potential for disaster in a flood-prone area like the Central Valley was demonstrated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which devastated Louisiana and neighboring states.

"They lost their property, they lost their household possessions, they lost their homes," said Jones, D-Sacramento. "We believe it's absolutely critical that people get insurance."

Assembly Bill 1898 is a key element in a package of measures designed to improve flood protection in the Central Valley and other low-lying areas.

Jones said the bill could pay dividends in helping persuade other legislators to invest billions in flood-control improvements.

"Why is someone in Los Angeles going to vote to spend billions of dollars in the Sacramento area if they don't know at the same time that we're doing things here to mitigate risk?" he asked.

But critics say homeowners should decide for themselves what level of financial risk to take from natural disasters.

"As a matter of policy, we never like mandatory insurance," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

State Sen. Dave Cox agreed.

"I think the people I represent would look at this, by and large, as just another intrusion," said Cox, R-Fair Oaks.

Jones' bill would expand on a federal law requiring flood insurance for structures within a 100-year floodplain, defined as an area likely to be inundated by a severe storm with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.

AB 1898 would create a similar mandate for levee-protected property within an even wider area, the 200-year floodplain.

Much of the Central Valley would be affected by Jones' bill.

Remembering the 1986 Floods

This editorial from the Bee Sunday, February 19th continues their superb coverage of the flood threat in Sacramento, which has seen articles on a regular basis covering all aspects of the situation.

Other work is also generating attention. The Sacramento Metro Chamber’s board chair, Frank Washington is calling flood prevention the number one priority for the Metro Chamber in 2006 and they are also sponsoring, as part of their Power Breakfast Series, a session on Wednesday, March 15, 2006,7:30 to 9:00 AM, at the Hyatt Regency called: Flood Control: A Time for Action.

You can call 916-552-6808 ext. 176 or go online to metrochamber.org to register. Cost is $40.00 per person.

Here is an excerpt from the Bee Editorial.

Editorial: 20 years later, lessons of '86 flood still resonate
It's only a matter of time before the rivers once again threaten. Will we be ready?
Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 19, 2006

Twenty years ago, a series of historic storms roared in from the Pacific and dumped more than 40 inches of rain on some stretches of the Sierra. The flooding in places was horrible, from Guerneville on the Russian River to Linda on the Yuba.

In Sacramento, the levees by and large held back the flows. But there were nail-biting moments, particularly along the American River, which held more water than any time in modern history. It was quite a flood. Yet it proved to be the alarm that Sacramento desperately needed.

Look around the Sacramento flood control scene today, and just about all the improvements that are under way or on the drawing boards can trace their roots to the 1986 flood. They include new flood walls for creeks in the south county; stronger levees on the American River; a new spillway, (Congress willing) for Folsom Dam; a taller Folsom Dam. All are projects of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, a coalition of local governments in Sacramento and Sutter counties. SAFCA did not exist before the 1986 flood.

As hard as it may be to believe today, flood protection just didn't seem like that big a problem before these storms began to reach shore two decades ago. Folsom Dam, so the community and government officials thought, was big enough to handle a storm that has a one-in-250 chance of happening in any given year. How wrong we were.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Floods of 1986, A Sober Reminder

This story in last Sunday’s Bee, for one who remembers making regular trips to the river and the top of Folsom Dam, (you could still get there in 1986) and chewing off more of our fingernails each time we saw the raging and rising waters, this article is a scary and sober reminder of how close we came, and an even stronger message, we hope, to our public leadership, who really needs to get its act together to protect the public, that’s us, from getting washed down to the Golden Gate some dark, rainy night.

Here is an excerpt.

Tom Philp: Against the flow
In 1986, three forward-thinking flood control experts threw out the rulebook and kept The Big One from getting worse
By Tom PhilpPublished 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 19, 2006

Twenty years ago today, three Sacramento flood officials were dreading the choice they were about to make. A series of ferocious storms were testing the limits of Northern California's dams and rivers. The threat of flooding throughout Sacramento was the greatest in modern history.

To keep the city above water, these three officials had to pick one of two options . They could release more water than the rulebook considered safe down the American River, the waterway threatening the city. Or they could stick to the rulebook and gamble that, upstream, a rapidly filling Folsom Dam could keep holding the water back.

The three men - Joe Countryman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dave Houston of the federal Bureau of Reclamation and David Kennedy of the California Department of Water Resources - made a gutsy decision on Feb. 19, 1986. They began releasing more water than the river had seen since the dam's construction, and they shared the responsibility if their decision proved wrong. Starting at 8 a.m., they increased releases from Folsom Dam from the official safe limit - 115,000 cubic feet per second - to 130,000 cubic feet per second. Actually, the flow was even greater. The spillway gates opened a little wider than intended. The flow was 134,000 cubic feet per second.

How much water is that? Here is another way to put it. More than a million gallons of water raged down the American River every second. And Sacramento held its breath, praying that levees along the river would hold.

When flood control decisions become the most difficult, no computer takes over. In 1986, and today, those decisions are a very human exercise.

In the 1986 flood, many things went wrong. But some things went right. The three leaders easily could have retreated inside their respective agencies: Countryman was the Corps' local leader on flood operations; Houston ran Folsom Dam; Kennedy led flood planning for the state. Each could have waited for another to step forward and make the ugly choice. Instead, they united in conference call after conference call.

"Because of the enormity of what was happening," said Countryman, "as far as we could tell, we always assumed it was going to be a consensus decision."

A few weeks ago, the trio agreed to get together to recount what almost happened to Sacramento. None is still in government. Countryman is a private flood control consultant. Houston works in water-bond financing. Kennedy is retired, having run the state water department for 16 years under Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson. But Kennedy clearly remembered a breathless warning from a deputy director one morning in the second week of February.

"The Big One is coming," the deputy director told Kennedy. "I said, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'We got a great big storm coming here later in the week. And it's going to be a big flood control problem.'"

Looking outside, the warning seemed far-fetched. There was no winter fog, no clouds, just a brilliant sun. In fact, water officials had been preparing for the possibility of a drought. "It was a beautiful week," said Kennedy.

But not for long. Out in the Pacific, a dangerous weather pattern was fast developing - a moisture machine that some call a Pineapple Express. Clouds were sucking up moisture off the Hawaiian Islands. The jet stream was shifting to send this band of moisture directly to California. Pilots to and from Hawaii reported the jet stream's wind speeds exceeded 200 miles per hour. One computer model, according to a state report, "confirmed fears of a truly extraordinary rainfall event."

Meanwhile, at the Bureau of Reclamation, Houston relied on different predictions about the storm. Talk wasn't of The Big One. The initial forecast from the U.S. Weather Service suggested a modest flow from the Sierra into Folsom Dam by dawn Feb. 17. So at first, Houston remained in drought mode. He did not increase releases from Folsom Dam. He did not know just how wrong that initial forecast would prove to be. It was going to be off - way off - by a multiple of 10.

By Feb. 17, 1986, the Sierra was in the middle of a monstrous series of storms. At Bucks Lake in Plumas County, for example, 49.44 inches of rain fell in 10 days. The flow into Folsom Dam was 200,000 cubic feet per second.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Nonprofit Managing a Public Resource

What is exciting about this story in Sunday’s Bee is how effective the management of the Sacramento Zoo has become since 1997 when the city contracted with the Sacramento Zoological Society, a nonprofit organization, to assume Zoo management.

This is exactly the type of arrangement we advocate for the American River Parkway and we would anticipate the same results.

The public/private partnership works well because it combines the best elements of the public sector with the private and philanthropic sector, producing a huge win-win for the public.

Another major public resource managed by a nonprofit organization is Central Park in New York, which has been successfully managed by the Central Park Conservancy for many years.

Here is an excerpt on the speaker’s series the Zoological Society has brought to Sacramento, which is generating publicity, interest, and funding for the Zoo.

Zoo series stirs up debate, interest
Wednesday's sell-out lecture is the first of three to tackle the touchy topic of intelligent design.
By Edie Lau -- Bee Science Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Sacramento Zoo's spring lecture series, traditionally a modest event geared for zoo docents, is sold out, with long waiting lists of people hoping to catch talks on the provocative subject of evolution and intelligent design.

Given the intense and potentially antagonistic interest, the zoo is taking the unusual step of hiring off-duty police to provide security during the event. The first of three lectures is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"We're going to be prepared for protest, just in case," said Robin Whittall, the zoo's education director.

The lectures will be presented by speakers whose views reflect that of mainstream science - that intelligent design is not science and does not qualify as a scientific alternative to evolution.
Whittall said the zoo has received about 50 calls, e-mail messages and letters this month from supporters and critics of the lecture series. One person told her: "The creationists will be there to ask the tough questions."

Adherents of intelligent design hold that some aspects of life are too complex to be explained by the evolutionary processes of natural selection and random genetic mutation.

Zoo officials stress that the lectures are not statements on whether an "intelligent designer" such as God exists.

"Evolution is about change (in species) over time, and it doesn't say anything about how things all got started in the first place," said Mary Healy, the zoo's executive director.

Nevertheless, a sizzling national debate on the topic, which came to a boil last fall in a Pennsylvania court trial over the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes, has translated into unprecedented interest in the zoo's usually low-key spring talks.

A front-page article in The Bee on Feb. 3 describing the upcoming lectures and objections by some former zoo supporters prompted a rush on tickets, Whittall said.

In response, the zoo decided to allow sales of 100 tickets per talk, up from the 75 it had originally planned to sell.

"We recently completed construction that allows us to increase the capacity of the room, so that was good," Whittall said, adding, "It will be cozy."

The expansion isn't enough to meet demand: The waiting list for Wednesday's talk is 68 deep; 18 deep for a talk on March 22; and five deep for the last talk on April 26.

Zoo officials considered moving the event to a larger venue but decided to stay put.

"We felt like the lecture series is one of the amenities the zoo offers, sort of like (our) concert series," Healy said. "It's kind of about being at the zoo."

The decision not to stretch access further has become a controversial point in itself.

Mark Stillman, a civil engineer who lives about a mile from the zoo in Land Park and who was unable to get tickets to the first two lectures, questioned why the zoo can't do more to meet demand.

"They chose a very controversial topic that has a lot of public interest, and they didn't apparently plan for that," said Stillman, who did manage to get a ticket to the last talk.
Stillman suggested to Whittall that the zoo post a video recording or written transcript of the talks on its Web site. Whittall declined.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Auburn Dam on the Table, Part Two

At last, the taboo is broken and in this story from Sunday's Bee, a public discussion in a major media source is engaged regarding the possibility of building a dam to protect Sacramento from flooding, and though we don't agree with the Bee's findings, we are happy to see the subject raised.

We also agree that the projected size of the Auburn Dam’s water storage, as currently designed, is too small to offer optimal protection against the volume of run-off generated by the storms of the last fifty years and we hope to see from the current re-studying of the dam an understanding that it needs to store much more water.

Thanks again to the Bee for bringing this debate into the open public forum and as incomplete as their reporting was, it is a good start.

Here is an excerpt.

Tempting fate: A torrent of doubts
Project backers expect electricity, water and flood protection, but critics call it pie-in-the-sky
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer Published Sunday, February 19, 2006

American taxpayers have had an unsteady relationship with the Auburn dam: $400 million spent so far on a dam that was never built; another $30 million through the end of this year to restore the former construction site; and now $1 million more to study whether to build the dam after all.

Since Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, Auburn dam supporters have rallied behind the project anew, suggesting it should be revived to protect Sacramento from a similar disaster.

The debate over the dam has always been politically charged, but an analysis by The Bee found an Auburn dam also could be an expensive mistake.

Supporters want to build a multiuse dam, which would rely on water sales, hydroelectric power and recreation fees to offset a likely cost of $5 billion.

But as a reservoir, an Auburn dam would create a limited new water supply, producing too little water and electricity to pay for itself, and at prices one potential buyer likened to champagne.

And that's only the beginning of the contradictions between dream and reality.

"It has become kind of like a religious site," said Butch Hodgkins, a member of the state Reclamation Board who once lobbied Congress for the dam as executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency.

"The dam is incredibly controversial because it runs flat into the fundamental beliefs of fiscal conservatives and environmentalists. It is, in effect, financially and politically impossible at this time, so you better get a good pair of water wings, or you better find something else."

For more than two decades, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, has led the Auburn dam faithful. It was he who persuaded the government to spend $1 million on another dam study by attaching it to an energy and water appropriations bill in November.

In an interview Friday, Doolittle dismissed every criticism of the dam, from earthquake risk to the cost of the water it would provide.

"Any dam will eventually pay for itself," Doolittle said. "If you build a multipurpose dam, it's a moneymaking machine because it generates the sale of electricity and of water. The project is alive and well, and it begs to be completed."

But most water and flood-control experts consider the Auburn dam a fantasy.

"It's a dam that makes no economic, environmental or flood-control sense, given the realities of California's water situation," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an independent water-policy think tank in Oakland. "The attraction of building big concrete things is palpable. But it's just no longer realistic, and it's no longer necessary."

The Auburn dam may end up being the most expensive dam that never was, with $400 million and counting spent since the project was authorized by Congress in 1965. Earthquake risk halted the project in 1979, leaving behind a gravel pit where a wild left-hand bend in the river used to flow.

The dam's problems, culled from dozens of interviews and thousands of pages of public records reviewed by The Bee, include the following:

* Auburn dam capacity could reach 2.3 million acre-feet of water, but it would be able to sell, at most, 350,000 acre-feet in an average year because someone else owns the rest. Although this could serve 700,000 homes, a recent state study found that California can meet its needs through 2030 by maximizing conservation and recycling, producing five times more water than an Auburn dam at a fraction of the cost.

* Water out of an Auburn dam would be very expensive. A decade-old federal study estimates it could cost almost $1,000 per acre-foot; dam supporters say it could run to $2,000 per acre-foot. The going rate for water today rarely exceeds $500 per acre-foot.

* It would be the most costly dam in American history. Supporters use $3 billion as a working estimate; others say $5 billion. The U.S. government pays only 65 percent of the flood-control portion of a new dam, requiring a local sponsor to pay for everything else. There is no local sponsor.

* The dam faces numerous environmental obstacles. In 1996, the U.S. Geological Survey said earthquake risk may be far greater than originally thought. And the dam might hurt recreation more than it helps because an average of 1 million people a year now enjoy the canyons that the dam would submerge.

Economic challenges

An Auburn dam's biggest challenges have always been economic, in part because its location, just east of the city of Auburn, was never a great place for a dam.

The best spots allow a small dam that creates a vast reservoir. Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, for instance, blocks a narrow slot canyon, storing 28.5 million acre-feet of water.

Auburn dam would be as tall as Hoover, but more than three times as wide. Yet it would store just 8 percent of Hoover's water because the canyons behind it are so short and narrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Natomas Flood Protection, Less Than Thought? Part Three

While I agree with the subject of this Bee Editorial from last Saturday, Natomas flood danger, I don’t agree with the assumptions; that it should be “common knowledge’ among Natomas residents that their flood protection is inadequate.

According to the letters in the Bee that have appeared about this issue, it appears most residents were told that their protection did meet the level not requiring flood insurance, leading to the "common knowledge", on their part, that they need not worry about flooding.

If there is any fault to lay here, it has to be laid at the doorstep of public leaders, who are aware of the dangers of flooding, (because it is part of their job to be so and I know they are intelligent people who thoughtfully keep aware of public safety issues) but have chosen not to act on it, rather than the homeowner, who rightly accepts reassurances from public leadership that there is no problem.

We, American River Parkway Preservation Society, encountered this attitude of public leadership not wanting to face obvious problems connected to the river, when we began working to bring attention to the highly obvious problems (still occurring) associated with illegal camping in the Lower Reach of the Parkway.

The stubborn refusal of public leadership to publicly accept the level of problems occurring out there—even now after the major print media coverage since 2003—which have pretty much precluded the adjacent communities from using the Parkway safely and enjoyably, continues to confound us.

Here is an excerpt.

Editorial: Natomas: At risk
New flood study confirms old suspicions
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, February 18, 2006

It should be common knowledge for the tens of thousands of residents in the Natomas communities of northern Sacramento that their flood protection isn't nearly what it should be.

But because of the lack of a requirement to buy flood insurance, and because so many of these residents are new to this fast-growing community, the risks aren't fully appreciated. A new and worrisome study of the Natomas levees along the Sacramento River by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) should be an alert as well as a blueprint for action.

The federal requirement to buy flood insurance does not apply to communities deemed to have a 100-year level of flood protection. In the case of Natomas, that means the levees along the Sacramento River have to hold in the event of a storm that has a 1-in-100 chance of coming any given winter.

Officially, Natomas has had this minimal level of flood protection since 1998, thanks to levee improvements. The improvements paved the way for the stunning growth that has occurred in recent years. Given the lack of a requirement to buy flood insurance, many new residents likely had no idea that they were about to live in one of the deepest flood plains in Northern California.

But in recent years flood officials have been wondering whether the 100-year level of protection is illusory. The new worry is water seeping in beneath levees (known as under-seepage, in engineer-speak), a problem exposed by the floods of 1997.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Natomas Flood Protection, Less Than Thought? Part Two

This story in Friday’s Bee, about the almost $300 million cost to fix the Natomas levees, and the almost tripling of property taxes on homeowners local government is suggesting levying to pay for it, points out the real cost-benefit of building major dams to capture run-off which would otherwise become flood waters.

Dams, whether raising Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River the extra 200 feet it was originally engineered for, or a major new dam on the American River, might appear cost-effective once all of the costs, including levee repairs, water meters, flood insurance, (not to mention the $16 billion in damage estimated in Sacramento from a major flood) from floods beyond the 200 year protection now being called for, which could become redundant by having the 500 year flood protection major dams can give.

Though given the time element, it is probably a moot discussion, it is still one whose elements should be considered when being presented various flood protection plans.

Here is an excerpt.

Levee price tag startles Natomas
Residents could see hefty tax hikes to pay for repairs.
By Deb Kollars and Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writers Published 2:15 am PST Friday, February 17, 2006

Fixing weak levees in the Natomas basin will take at least $270 million and may require a new tax assessment on homeowners, local flood control leaders announced Thursday.

Property owners in Natomas could see their tax bills rise to $300 a year to cover the levee work, which will cover seepage repairs far more extensive than previously known.

The grim news was delivered during an afternoon meeting Thursday of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. The full board attended, as well as more than 100 observers from the public and a bank of television crews. It was more attention than the board had seen in a long time.

During the hearing, Stein Buer, executive director of the agency, described preliminary results of geological testing of Natomas levees. The tests found the levees, because of seepage, don't even meet a minimal 100-year level of flood protection.

The news hit SAFCA board members hard.

"The findings in the report are staggering, especially in the context that we are so much more urbanized now," said Ray Tretheway, a Sacramento city councilman and member of the SAFCA board. "The risk is extraordinary."

Buer told his board that 20 out of 26 levee miles in Natomas need major repairs to control deep seepage that could cause levees to fail when rivers are high. In addition, two miles of levees have severe erosion.

These problems must be repaired just to attain a 100-year level of protection for the area, meaning the levees could withstand major storms with a 1 percent chance of striking in any given year.

SAFCA's goal is to reach 200-year protection for the entire Sacramento region. To do that in Natomas will require 16 miles of levees to be raised: 11 miles along the Sacramento River and five miles along the Natomas Cross Canal.

Together, this work is estimated to cost $270 million, Buer said. If Natomas residents are to cover the bill themselves, the work could require homeowners to approve a tripling of the property tax assessment they pay now for levees, from about $100 a year to $300, he said.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Water Quality & Flood Protection

As this story from yesterday’s Bee reminds us, water quality is crucial for living things, but in their delicate balancing act the Bureau of Reclamation, which regulates the water releases from Folsom Dam, only has so much water to play with in its continuing work to leave enough room in Folsom Lake for run off that might cause flooding, while retaining enough for drought conditions that can come virtually any year.

So, when we discuss the importance of building a major new dam on the American River to protect the integrity of the Parkway, it would also have beneficial results further down, in the Delta.

Here is an excerpt.

Hard line drawn on Delta water
Two agencies are ordered to stop violating salinity standard.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 16, 2006

State and federal agencies were ordered Wednesday to stop violating water quality standards in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a ruling that could mean more water flowing out of reservoirs to benefit fish and less water exported to Southern California residents.

The California Water Resources Control Board imposed a cease and desist order against the state Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate separate water export systems in the Delta and numerous reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada.

The order is unprecedented, marking the first time the board has stood firm to enforce a salinity standard in the troubled Delta, after granting compliance extensions for more than two decades to its fellow government agencies.

"We think this is historic in that it is making clear that the standards must be met, and I think that's a big deal," said John Herrick, an attorney for the South Delta Water Agency, which sells water to farmers in the south Delta and argued in favor of the order. "We think this sets a new tone."

The water projects operated by DWR and the Bureau of Reclamation collect water from throughout Northern California for storage in state and federal reservoirs, then pump it south through the Delta.

These massive diversions have altered water quality in the Delta because the fresh water released from the reservoirs often isn't enough to dilute the salty ocean water that flows in from San Francisco Bay. The saline water reduces crop productivity for Delta farmers and harms fish habitat.

Biologists have identified water exports as a possible culprit in the plunging populations of four fish species in the Delta, including the threatened Delta smelt.

"It really is a historic decision," Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said of the order. "In itself it may not save the Delta, but it will be one of the crucial mileposts on the road to restoration."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Natomas Flood Protection, Less Than Thought?

From tragedy comes opportunity, and from the tragedy of New Orleans has come the renewed and focused look at the flood situation in Sacramento, from which this story from today’s Bee has emerged, that Natomas may have less flood protection than thought, and that we have the opportunity, and hopefully the time, to fix it.

Here is an excerpt.

Natomas flood safety disputed
New studies suggest area lacks minimal level of protection.
By Deb Kollars and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff WritersPublished 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 16, 2006

New engineering studies indicate Natomas may not have the minimal 100-year level of flood protection that marked the safety threshold for opening the area to widespread development less than a decade ago.

The sobering news, which will be publicly discussed at a meeting this afternoon of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, has been quietly circulating among local politicians and flood control experts.

Some were stunned. For years, the levees surrounding Natomas have been touted as among the city's sturdiest, with new home buyers routinely assured they faced minimal flooding risks.

"It's a combination of disbelief, dismay, frustration and a little bit of anger," said Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, who sits on the flood control agency board. "We may not have the 100-year level of protection that we had thought, that we had been told."

Having 100-year protection means the flood control system can be expected to withstand severe storms with a one in a 100 chance of occurring every year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency considers this the minimal level of protection that communities must have to avoid building restrictions, mandatory flood insurance for mortgage holders and higher insurance rates.

Flood control leaders had known Natomas levees were likely to need more work under changing federal standards, as well as a growing realization that "underseepage" was occurring far below the levees that hold back the Sacramento and American rivers.

But the extent of the problem and what it will take to fix it - Fargo and others said estimates are in the $100 million vicinity - emerged recently as SAFCA directors received private briefings about engineering studies the agency conducted last year.

"It's looking like there's going to be a substantial cost to stabilize the levees to reconfirm our 100-year protection," Sacramento City Councilman and SAFCA board member Steve Cohn said.

Earlier suggestions that Natomas could be fortified by altering just a couple of miles of levees now appear to be "wishful thinking," he said. Instead, major stretches of waterways will need slurry reinforcement poured deep into the levee core, or new levees set farther away from the river, or some combination of the two, Cohn said.

Fargo said the news is disappointing for a city that had hoped to turn its attention to getting 200-year protection, and now has to retrace steps. She and Cohn said it may be necessary to increase assessments on property owners to help cover the costs, as well as seeking federal and state assistance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Flood Protection Levels Rising?

This article from Monday’s Bee provides notification of a welcome trend, calling for an increase in the acceptable level of flood protection, from 100 year to 200 year.

We hope they follow that movement with one to 500 year protection, and begin discussing the option providing that, a dam.

Here is an excerpt.

Bracing for the biggest storms
Flood agency looks at toughening the rules for urban protection
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Monday, February 13, 2006

A new state Reclamation Board is being asked to formally proclaim what its predecessors had been informally edging toward: 100-year flood protection just isn't good enough for Central Valley cities.

Some board members say urban areas should have at least twice that: levees and waterways robust enough to protect against a 200-year storm, a deluge with a half-percent chance of raining down any year.

They want the board, which is a key gatekeeper for state and federal funds, to withhold backing of projects in any urban area that doesn't have a solid plan for reaching the 200-year standard.

Woodland and other cities around the Sacramento region could be affected by the change.

Today, Woodland is still seeking ways to achieve 100-year protection after voters rejected the strategy described as the most cost-effective.

And although Sacramento does have a plan to protect itself, eventually, from a 200-year storm, some on the Reclamation Board suggest that may be only a starting point.

"It's a good target to shoot for," said board President Ben Carter. "When we reach that, we may decide that's not adequate and we may need to have more for some areas."

[Let's hope the target for flood protection levels continues moving, upward.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sacramento Flooding Part Eighteen

This story from the Sunday’s Bee, their continuing series on flooding, Tempting Fate, should be headlined; “Disneyland gets flood protection before the state capitol does!” but the real story is how effective the local representation of the folks down south is, who came to agreement on their policy and then got the funds to implement it.

As the major city most liable to flooding in the country, Sacramento still awaits that kind of effective, consensus-building leadership, and your blogger wonders if protecting the public from the single most possible disaster that may befall it is a good campaign issue for any potential new leadership out there?

Here is an excerpt.

Tempting fate: Anti-flood funding awash in politics

South state's unity has aided safety projects while capital region struggles.
By Deb Kollars -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 12, 2006

For many years, the Santa Ana River running through Southern California was known as the most dangerous watershed west of the Mississippi. Its flash floods were legendary and brutal, threatening a rich band of real estate running through the heart of Orange County.

Today, this land of citrus and subdivisions is becoming far safer, thanks to a $1.4 billion package of flood control fixes on the Santa Ana, including a new dam in the San Bernardino Mountains.

When the job is finished, it will leave a sharp imbalance in the state:
Disneyland will have twice the flood protection of the Capitol of California.

The Santa Ana project, paid mostly with federal dollars, will be done within five years. It will provide cities from Anaheim to Huntington Beach protection against rare but dangerous storms that have about a one-in-200 chance of occurring every year.

Meanwhile, Sacramento will continue to carry the distinction of having the greatest flood risk of any major city in the nation. Some neighborhoods don't even have 100-year protection.

Solid plans are in motion to reach the 200-year threshold by making changes at Folsom Dam and strengthening levees.

But hurdles as wide as rivers remain, including securing the $1 billion, or more, it will cost. It will be 15 years, by most accounts, before Sacramento has a safety cushion on the Sacramento and American rivers akin to that on the Santa Ana.

"There is a tremendous amount of more work that needs to be done," said Jason Fanselau, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento district. "We're still right at that bare minimum of flood protection."

Members of Sacramento's congressional delegation, amid numerous inquiries, were defensive when asked about north-south safety comparisons. You're talking about different rivers, different landscapes, different times, different players, their representatives insisted.

The staff members, instead, wanted to talk about how hard their bosses have worked to get flood protection dollars during difficult times in Washington.

Adriana Surfas, for example, who spoke to The Bee on behalf of Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, pointed out that in California, Sacramento received the third highest water-related allocation from Congress in 2006 at $29.96 million. (The Santa Ana River project was first in line at $61.65 million. The Oakland Harbor was second at $48 million.)

On its face, the $29.96 million sounds like a lot. And things would seem to look even better for next year: Last week, President Bush earmarked $46.8 million in his proposed 2007 federal budget for flood improvements on the American River.

But it is a long way from covering the $1 billion or more needed to get Sacramento to the 200-year goal, said Fanselau and others."

Or the several billion to get Sacramento to the 500 year level, and yet, even at that higher figure, still only about 10% of Sacramento County's annual budget.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Reclaiming Our Rivers

It is very pleasant to be able to share this story from Friday’s Bee about public leadership revealing visionary plans to embrace what is so central to our community, our rivers.

This plan, to reclaim the Sacramento River from Old Sacramento to Miller’s Park is just wonderful, and we deeply applaud the city of Sacramento for pursuing it.

Here is an excerpt.

Sacramento aims to reclaim part of its riverfront
In their bid to transform the 'docks,' officials choose a team of developers affiliated with San Francisco's Treasure Island and Ferry Building projects
By Mary Lynne Vellinga -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Friday, February 10, 2006

The riverfront south of Old Sacramento's tourist district is quiet and largely forgotten, except for the bikers and joggers who brave a soaring freeway overpass, oil storage tanks and a city sewage reservoir en route to Discovery Park.

Now the city of Sacramento is seeking to reclaim this 43-acre stretch of the Sacramento River - called the "docks" - as a new neighborhood that could have more than 1,000 units of tightly packed high-rise and midrise housing.

The city recently picked the same group that is redeveloping San Francisco's Treasure Island to carry out this transformation.

As part of the project, the city is planning a broad pedestrian promenade that would hug the riverfront all the way from Old Sacramento to Miller Park, an underused park and marina at the end of Broadway.

"We're really trying to gain access to our riverfront and enhance public enjoyment of it," said Sacramento economic development director Wendy Saunders.

If the effort succeeds, it would give new identity to a section of the riverfront that has languished since its heyday in the Gold Rush, when ships moored at docks along the shoreline and unloaded goods that were then sent by rail up the R Street industrial corridor.

Highways eventually superseded the river as a mover of industrial goods, and the construction of Interstate 5 cut the Sacramento River off from downtown. The rail bridge that once carried goods to R Street is being converted into a pedestrian and bike crossway."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Flooding Liability

An important thing to note about this discussion, in yesterday's Bee, of liability from flooding is the limited options mentioned, primarily stopping development in flood prone areas by issue advocacy groups, rather than stopping flooding itself, which we would like to hear about from public leadership.

Helping after the fact of tragedy is good, but if you can stop the tragedy from occurring, that is even better.

Here is an excerpt.

Who pays if Valley floods?
The state does, but legislation wants to spread the burden.
By Terri Hardy and Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writers Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, February 9, 2006

If a levee breaks in the Central Valley and nearby homes are flooded, who should be responsible for the damages - the state or the local government?

While the state now bears that burden, language tucked into legislation that would enact Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's flood and water bond seeks to transfer at least some of the liability to cities and counties.

Although even one of the bill's authors expects the provision to be altered before lawmakers are through, it is focusing debate on one of the state's major flood worries: how to best share the burden if levees fail.

"The local governments will become the deep pockets," said Yvonne Hunter, legislative representative for the League of California Cities, pointing out that the state manages the levees. "It's simply unfair."

Les Harder, chief of the state Department of Water Resources' flood-management division, countered that cities and counties decide where homes are built, and should share liability if those homes are flooded.

"There's a disconnect," Harder said. "If cities and counties were going to be sharing some of the liability, they would probably have a higher interest in how to plan for flood control, and how they plan for development."

Schwarzenegger has proposed a series of bonds for public infrastructure to be issued over 10 years, including a total of $9 billion in general obligation bonds for flood control and water improvements.

A provision of SB 1166, co-written by Sens. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, and Mike Machado, D-Linden, says that before state bond money is used to patch up erosion or otherwise repair levees, the local maintenance district must first agree to take on liability if the levee fails.

In addition, before bond money can be spent to improve levees in urban areas, cities and counties whose populations depend on levees would also have to accept legal liability.

Harder said that in the event of a major flood, the state wouldn't escape responsibility.

"The first location for liability would be transferred to cities and counties, and if it bankrupts them, liability would roll to the state," Harder said.

The provision is raising eyebrows among cities, counties and even some of those who have argued that jurisdictions approving development behind levees should bear a share of the risk.

Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said she was unfamiliar with the legislation, but she opposed the concept of more liability transferred to cities.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nimibus Flood Gate Opens Accidentally

This story, in Tuesday’s Bee, was a shocker. An electrical malfunction on one of the 18 gates at Nimbus, caused the gate to open for 30 minutes causing the water level to rise in the river by over 5 feet.

At that rate, had each gate opened the river could have risen by, (this can’t possibly be right) 90 feet in thirty minutes??? Of course, Lake Nimbus only holds so much water, the level it would drop to after which no more would flow out through the gates, and several other factors, would surely preclude this happening….(right?) but it did happen with one gate, and for thirty minutes the gate stayed wide-open…scary!

Here is an excerpt.

Dam's failed sensor caused water gush
By Jim Downing -- Bee Staff WriterPublished 2:15 am PST Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A loose electrical connection caused the malfunction in a Nimbus Dam gate Saturday, abruptly raising water levels in the lower American River by nearly 5 1/2 feet, a Bureau of Reclamation official said Monday.

Vibrations from water passing through the dam's gates appear to have shaken the connection loose, according to bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken. It was the first serious malfunction in the gate control system, which was installed about two years ago, he said.

The problem occurred at 1 p.m. Saturday as four of the dam's 18 gates were being opened slightly to increase the flow of water below the dam from 5,500 to 7,000 cubic feet per second, he said.

The malfunction caused one of the gates to fully open, increasing the flow to about 20,000 cfs and sending anglers downstream hurrying for higher ground.

"When you raise the gates there's a sensor that's supposed to kick in" and stop the gates from opening beyond a set point, McCracken said. When the sensor failed, one of the gates continued to open, he said.

According to a U.S. Geological Survey chart, a flow increase from 5,500 cfs to 20,000 cfs raises the river's average depth from 7.2 feet to 12.7 feet.

The gate remained open for about 30 minutes before an operator closed it using a manual override switch on top of the dam, McCracken said. "

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Funds for Flood Projects

This story in Tuesday’s Bee notes new federal funding for flood protection in the President’s budget, some to complete a pumping station to withdraw water from the American River for Placer County’s growing domestic needs, creating even more urgency for additional water storage to protect the integrity of the Parkway.

Fund hike for flood aid urged
Bush's budget would help pay for levee repair and a bridge near Folsom Dam.
By David Whitney -- Bee Washington Bureau Published 2:15 am PST Tuesday, February 7, 2006

WASHINGTON - A 2007 federal budget released by the White House on Monday seeks $65 million for Sacramento-area flood control work, a 40 percent increase over what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend this year.

Much of the increase will go toward ground preparation for construction of a bridge over the American River near Folsom Dam.

Separately, the Bureau of Reclamation's budget proposes to increase funding for work in the Delta by $1.6 million to $38.6 million, despite an overall $20 million spending cut for the water agency in the Central Valley.

The Sacramento-area congressional delegation was ecstatic about the requested funding levels. In prior years, the delegation has had to fight other states and the White House to increase spending on priority flood control work.

"I am thrilled the president realizes how important these flood control and water projects are to our region," said Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville.

Doolittle is a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee that writes funding bills for the corps and bureau.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said that what's so remarkable about the corps' proposed spending level is that it falls only $5 million short of the $70 million worth of work the agency figures it will be ready to do next year.

That "capability" level was underfunded by almost half this year, even after Congress boosted 2006 spending by more than $7 million over the president's request one year ago.

Matsui called the White House budget request "a signal, a federal recognition" that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating consequences in New Orleans, the flood threat to Sacramento has taken on new urgency.

"I am very pleased," she said. "This is something to work with. We'll definitely try to increase it. But this does position us well for the appropriations process."

Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, said the budget "looks like a greater emphasis on our concerns than we've seen in previous budgets."

Lungren said he was particularly gratified to see that the administration was moving ahead on the Folsom bridge and "believes it is a priority."

The budget proposal would:

* Boost spending on strengthening American River and Sacramento River levees from $4.4 million approved by Congress for 2006 to $17.4 million next year. Spending on levee work along four south Sacramento streams would double to about $7.3 million.

* Increase spending on a project to raise the height of Folsom Dam - which includes construction of a bridge over the American River immediately downstream from the dam - from $15 million in 2006 to $23.4 million next year."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sacramento Fooding, Part Seventeen

This story in Sunday’s bee is another in their Tempting Fate series about flooding issues in Sacramento, and focuses on the flood danger in the Pocket area of Sacramento, surrounded on three sides by the Sacramento River, which is slowly eroding the levee away.

Here is an excerpt, with the most notable quote in the first line:

Tempting fate: Thin margin of safety
Relentless river erodes Pocket-area defenses
By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 5, 2006

"Along bend after lazy bend of the Sacramento River, engineers are trying to outwit or outmuscle the same force that carved the Grand Canyon.

"They are targeting erosion, the relentless buffeting of water against dirt that sculpts landscapes, drilling away equally at natural riverbanks and the levees that defend neighborhoods against flooding.

"It is an endless war, destined for skirmishes as long as people build levees and houses that rely on them.

"In Sacramento, few places illustrate both the stakes and the complexity of the war against erosion as well as the Pocket, a neighborhood cradled on three sides by the wide amble of the Sacramento River.

"This erosion hot spot has it all: misguided planning, badly placed levees, too little money and tens of thousands of people who need the levees and the money to be more than they are.

"Today, the most pressing problem is financial. Flood officials wanted to fix eight erosion spots in the Pocket and build two slurry walls this year, but Congress didn't appropriate enough to pay the agreed-on federal share of 75 percent.

"Since word came down last fall that Congress allocated only $10.7 million of the $36 million sought for flood control work this year in the Pocket and beyond, federal, state and local officials have been wracking their brains for ways to bolster Pocket defenses.

"They're exploring a temporary advance from the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which wasn't slated to contribute anything, or a greater role for the state Department of Water Resources.

"We have to get it done. There is no option of failing here," said Anna Hegedus, who oversees flood-control project development for the Water Resources department. "We are all getting very creative."

"The urgency comes because the Pocket, its northwestern slice known as Greenhaven, and the Meadowview neighborhood just to the west have some of the worst flood control in Sacramento - less than what's needed to withstand a big storm with a 1 percent chance of striking any year."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Flood Protection, Public Discussion

Here are some more letters to the Editor, from the Bee of February 1, joining the public discussion about the flood protection in our community.

Letters to the editor

Best insurance is prevention

Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The Jan. 23 front-page story "Behind levees, what's real risk?" on flood insurance was good and to the point. But the best flood insurance is prevention.

Going from 100-year flood protection to 400-to 500-year protection is far superior and may cost less. If all property owners were to reduce their premiums by more than half with 400-year protection, they could actually pay for an Auburn dam. Of course, revenue bonds should be used, with the power and water sales actually paying for the construction of the dam.

Editorials in the past have mentioned earthquake dangers. With the previously proposed all-concrete dam, there was a quake danger. With an earthen dam with a concrete core, the danger would be minimal, as a quake may cause a crack but it could not cause a failure. Of course the levees still need to be fixed or rebuilt.

- Bob Brown, Fair Oaks

Alas, more Auburn dam letters

As the rains increase, so do letters from the irrepressible Auburn dam boosters. For those not completely in the thrall of faith-based policy-making, here are a few factual reminders about Auburn dam:

* It is the most expensive U.S. dam project (more than Hoover or Grand Coulee dams in today's dollars).

* Because of its cost, neither water nor power it might produce would be economic.

* It replaces an existing recreational area, so that's a wash.

* Oh, yes, and it's on an active fault, and the odds the weight of stored water would cause a quake and dam collapse exceeds any offered improvement in flood protection.

Other than that, it's a swell idea.

On the other hand, we hear relatively little about existing policies that offer huge subsidies for land speculators who develop Godforsaken-20-foot-underwater flood plain surrounded by weak levees. (What else is North Natomas?)

Public policy rewarding such land speculation increases flood risks more than not building the dam.

- Mark Dempsey, Orangevale

Flood danger: Working moms?

Re "Children in the flood," letter, Jan. 13: I understand Elizabeth Andrade's concern for residents at risk for catastrophic flooding. But why blame working moms?

Andrade writes, "Where are the moms who could be organizing for a remedy to this dire situation?" Her answer? Working outside the home, where they won't be able to get their children to safety in the case of flooding. Andrade apparently assumes our children are all home alone, rather than in after-school programs, with caregivers or with parents lucky enough to have flexible work hours.

I have an idea for Andrade: focus on elected lawmakers, rather than on blaming overworked parents. The real issues are much larger than mothers who dare, in 2006, to work outside the home.

- Amy Anderson, Sacramento

Old weir vs. deeper channel

Recent discussions regarding the Sacramento Weir caused me to refer back to a 1949 college text, which states:

"Sacramento Weir has a rated capacity in excess of 100,000 cfs; yet when discharging full, it reduces the Sacramento stage by less than 1 foot, although the channel capacity at Sacramento is in the order of 100,000 cfs. In addition to decreasing the water-surface slope at Sacramento, the opening of the weir accelerates flow upstream, and a portion of the water that would normally pass over Fremont Weir is diverted down the Sacramento channel and over the Sacramento Weir. Thus, the weir serves largely to provide an alternate channel for upstream flows instead of accomplishing a protective diversion. Water is diverted into the upper bypass channels of the system over fixed weirs. These bypasses provide an auxiliary high-water channel but at the same time make it necessary to maintain extra lines of levees. It would appear that a single channel with adequate capacity would be more economical and effective."

- G. Arthur Cort, Latrobe

Weather history and forecast

It was with special interest that I read the Jan. 15 Forum article, "The storm at our door." As the article indicates, names like "Pineapple Express" are indeed misleading. A good name should designate where the storm forms and how it behaves.

The names "Alberta Clipper" and "Panhandle Hook" were coined by my father, Rheinhart "Bill" Harms. In the 1960s, as meteorologist in charge of the Milwaukee National Weather Service, he studied 35 storms that originated in Alberta, Canada, and the Oklahoma Panhandle. His research indicated that the heavy snow band occurs about 120 nautical miles north of the track of the surface low. Based on the precipitable water coming into the storm, he was able to forecast with reasonable accuracy the amount of snowfall the storm would deliver. Studying the patterns of past storms in our region may help us predict the rainfall totals more precisely as well. Our safety depends upon it.

- Harriet Knops, El Dorado Hills

Friday, February 03, 2006

Parkway as Priority Budget Item

This story is a follow up to our budget story post of February 1, and in this story Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan has reminded us of the importance of the Parkway.

Supervisor Susan Peters, has also recently spoken up for the Parkway as a priority. Here is what we wrote in our January Newsletter (available to ARPPS members).

"In the January 2006 issue of Inside Arden, Supervisor Susan Peters also indicated her support of this concept, [establishing a Joint Powers Authority for the Parkway] beginning her “Year in Review” Article with her agenda for the Parkway, which is reproduced in full here."

“Protecting the American River Parkway”

“The American River Parkway is a unique resource for our community, providing recreational activity and scenic natural beauty that can be enjoyed by everyone.

“This budget year, the Board of Supervisors increased the parkway’s current funding by an additional $450,000. Notwithstanding that increase, it is vital to pursue institutional changes to ensure financial stability. One possible approach is the creation of a joint powers authority with the cities that border the river to share in the parkway’s administration and upkeep.

“During 2005, I met with members of those city councils: reaction generally was positive. I will continue to advance the proposal this year. As the concept is fleshed out, the devil will be in the details, but I hope an agreement can be crafted to protect the values of the parkway plan as well as provide a more diversified revenue stream from several jurisdictions.”

by Supervisor Susan Peters, Inside the County, Inside Arden Newspaper: January 2006, (Page 18)

Here is an excerpt from the February 1st article in the Bee.

County delays action on retiree health subsidy
By Judy Lin -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, February 1, 2006

"Sacramento County retirees will have to wait until Feb. 7 to find out whether the Board of Supervisors will continue supplementing their health insurance premiums one more year.

"The five-member board on Tuesday postponed a vote on renewing the benefit until Supervisor Roger Dickinson returns from Washington, D.C. He is presumed to be the tie-breaking vote.

"It'll be three to two, that's how I see it," said Kiyoshi Adachi, president of the Sacramento County Retired Employees Association.

"The board has to decide whether to continue a supplement for the county's 5,700 qualified retirees at an estimated cost of $14 million amid projected budget deficits. The county is expected to tap into reserves to balance next year's budget, and it faces a $40.6 million deficit for fiscal year 2007-08.

"County staff has proposed to continue the benefit but slowly phase the program out for younger and future workers under a "Rule of 60" formula that calculates a worker's age and years of service.

"Supervisor Illa Collin called it a good compromise that takes care of employees while not overburdening taxpayers.

"Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan disagreed, saying the proposal doesn't go far enough.
"This represents $7 million in general fund dollars. There was once a proposal to close the American River Parkway and the annual cost of maintaining that parkway is just about equal to that $7 million," she said. "

With the increased focus on the Parkway from these two supervisors, perhaps we can expect better from the county's stewardship in the future.

We applaud their efforts, and look forward to a majority of the board joining them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Flood Protection Planning?

This story from the Sacramento News and Review of January 12th is disheartening, but sadly seems to fit the perceptions of most folks, that public leadership is really not doing much about the potential flooding that will occur here.

Some CSUS students uncovered the apparent truth behind the press releases.

Here are excerpts.

SN&R January 12, 2006 Essay
The runaround
For all the talk of flood preparedness, CSUS grad students find a failure to communicate

By the students of Sociology 238 and Professor Kevin Wehr.

We were astonished to read SN&R’s recent feature story reporting that city and county officials claimed that “the city is well-protected by a net of agencies working closely and cooperatively.”

As dedicated environmental- sociology students, we collectively decided to investigate Sacramento’s flood preparedness on our own after the Katrina debacle. We contacted local agencies to obtain evacuation plans and guidelines; information on flood risk and environmental impacts; and information on overall city and county readiness, including their ability to cooperate--which clearly was New Orleans officials’ fatal flaw.

If our local Sacramento agencies really believe they are “working closely and cooperatively,” then these agencies need schooling in “cooperation.”

After weeks of phone calls, e-mails, on-site visits, Web searches and attending those much-heralded public forums, we’ve concluded that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing. Sacramento is literally going to drown in bureaucracy and the “good job, Brownie” undercurrent being used to appease public concern and bolster confidence. This is as worrisome as the risk of an actual disaster.

After several weeks of effort, the authors have yet to find out what exactly Sacramento’s disaster plan is, what it looks like, where it is, if the public can access it, and who is in charge of it. One student’s phone call to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) to get the city’s “evacuation plan” was redirected to “your local fire or sheriff’s department, as they are the first responder.” SAFCA insisted that because it wasn’t a first responder, it had no information on evacuation plans. What? The flood agency has no information on evacuation plans? OK, we’ll follow the bureaucratic trail: Subsequent calls by students to local fire and sheriff’s offices resulted in numerous other redirects. One student’s request for the plan resulted in the Office of Emergency Services sending a booklet on personal preparedness with no mention of the city’s plan. Our investigations concluded that: (1) The city’s “multihazard plan” is not available to the public for fear of terrorist use; (2) the plan is currently under revision, and the existing two bound volumes are available at libraries for the public to review; (3) the plan was updated in the spring of this year--but no one knows where it is; and (4) there is a three-volume set of the plan from the 1970s, which is available at the library.

Not to be deterred, some of us decided to visit our local first responder: the fire station. The very polite fireman said that evacuation plans for the city are not the fire department’s responsibility; it only assists with rescues. He said the police department handles evacuation plans. Inquiries to the police and the sheriff both were met with non-responses. Perhaps they are busy dealing with jailhouse-abuse allegations.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Have a Public Benefit Nonprofit Manage Parkway

As this story about the County's budget problems from Sunday’s Bee reminds us, the Parkway is likely going to continue to run short of money, continuing its slow, multi-year deterioration so saddening to the community.

When New York’s Central Park encountered this similar situation several years ago it contracted with the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy to provide management and with its tax deferred donation capability, also raise funds for the Park. Their current endowment is over $100 million.

As this management option has worked extremely well for New York, it has also worked for the Sacramento Zoo, for which the city has been contracting with the nonprofit Sacramento Zoological Society for similar reasons.

This type of partnership, between local government and public benefit nonprofit corporations has great benefit for all involved, and should be explored for our Parkway.

This is the type of arrangement we have been advocating for the Parkway, beginning with a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to stabilize funding and management, while the move to nonprofit governance, with the land remaining in public ownership by the County, occurs.

Here is an excerpt.

County braces for future deficits
By Judy Lin -- Bee Staff Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sacramento County's spending diet will help balance the budget next year, but that won't be enough to overcome projected deficits in the ensuing years.

According to the county's 2005-06 midyear budget report, which was released last week, the county will need to tap into its reserves to balance its $2 billion general fund budget for 2006-07. Meanwhile, upcoming pension obligation payments and growing labor costs are projected to trigger a $40.7 million deficit in 2007-08.

The funding gap is expected to continue for at least another three years unless departments start trimming. As one supervisor put it: "We won't be out of the woods for a long time."

County bookkeepers will present the report, which serves as a bellwether for the 2006-07 fiscal year, to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The board also is expected to make critical budget decisions, including the expansion of the Sheriff's Department audit to include a wide-ranging probe of jail operations in response to allegations of brutality and abuse against inmates.

The 2006-07 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is expected to benefit from strong property tax growth. But the county still will have to use $6 million in reserves to balance the budget, according to the midyear report.

Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan said she's happy the county won't have to make cuts this year. However, a lot of factors can shake up those numbers.

"There are the unknowns," MacGlashan said. "There's the labor contracts - we're facing a steep increase in annual (debt) payments. But I'm glad to see that we're funding our pension obligation payments."

Hard times are fast becoming the norm in Sacramento County. In 2003, the county faced an initial $100 million shortfall. Departments slashed their budgets and vacancies went unfilled. To date, 1,800 of the county's 14,000 positions remain unfilled.