Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clock is ticking on California's Central Valley flood-control plan

Matt Weiser in the Sacramento Bee: State officials have about 18 months to complete a first-ever comprehensive flood-control plan for the Central Valley, and they're seeking public input to help finish the job. The California Department of Water Resources is required by 2007 state legislation to complete the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by Jan. 1, 2012. It must be adopted six months later by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.

The plan aims to identify weaknesses in the Valley's network of levees, weirs and bypasses, and suggest ways to fix those problems. It's a tall order.

Generations of California flood experts have been foiled by the challenge of simply understanding flood risk in one of the world's most complex watersheds, much less building effective improvements. There are also huge legal and financial risks to consider.

"That's the stuff that's really the bread and butter of these issues, and they only have a year and a half to come up with something," said Ronald Stork, a flood policy expert at Friends of the River in Sacramento. "And I don't know if they can."

…One of the most pressing environmental issues is managing trees and other vegetation on levees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which sets national standards for levee safety, recently began to impose a new policy that forbids trees on levees. The agency believes trees weaken levees, but has granted California a temporary reprieve due to its unique circumstances….

Yuba County, CA, January 4, 1997 -- A levee break caused the flood-swollen Feather River to pour into the Oliverhurst area in Yuba County, California. Photo by Robert C. Eplett, Wikimedia Commons via the FEMA photo library

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