Monday, May 12, 2008

Sacramento Flooding

The first sentence tells it all. “California's capital city may be best known for politics, but it has another claim to fame: It's America's most flood-threatened city not named New Orleans.”

New Orleans had a 250 year level when it flooded, and virtually every other major river city in the country has a 500 year level. To see this in a graph go to the Department of Water Resources report: FloodSafe California: Rebuilding the System, Reducing the Risk and look at page 13.

Sacramento prepares for the worst -- massive flooding
State and federal agencies race to complete work designed to prevent the $25-billion disaster that could result if the rivers surrounding the capital city overflowed or breached aging levees.
By Eric Bailey
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 11, 2008

SACRAMENTO — California's capital city may be best known for politics, but it has another claim to fame: It's America's most flood-threatened city not named New Orleans.

A recent state report predicts that the right combination of unlucky weather conditions could put some parts of the city under more than 20 feet of water, causing a $25-billion disaster that would cripple state government and ripple through the California economy.

Authorities are racing against time to strengthen the earthen levees that ring nearly the entire city to hold back the swollen American and Sacramento rivers.

"Every winter we hold our breaths and hope this isn't the year something happens before we can finish the work," said Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson. "There is a sense of the clock ticking."

When heavy rain begins to fall, folks here peer nervously at the sky and riverbanks. And Stein Buer -- the person perhaps most responsible for their fates -- frets and prepares.

"I never sleep during storms," said Buer, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which is working with the state and federal governments in a multibillion-dollar effort to avert catastrophe. "It's the nature of my responsibility."

Worst-case scenarios project 500 dead, 102 square miles flooded, 300,000 people uprooted, an international airport and state agencies under water, and years of recovery.

To avoid that outcome, Buer has plotted strategy, navigated bureaucracy, even joined crews tossing sandbags.

He isn't going it alone. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the federal Bureau of Reclamation have all stepped up prevention efforts since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. State flood experts and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, are pushing to buttress the Central Valley's 1,600 miles of levees.

The aim, with the help of nearly $5 billion in state bond money approved in 2006, is to double Sacramento's flood protection over the next decade.

Work began recently on a $683-million Folsom Dam spillway channel that would more quickly lower the lake as a mega-storm approached the American River's 18,000-square-mile watershed. Along the Sacramento River, which drains 23,000 square miles of Northern California, crews have reinforced aging levees near some of the most flood-prone neighborhoods.

But in Sacramento's fastest-growing neighborhood, big trouble still looms -- even without a flood.