Thursday, June 16, 2011

Without strategy, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta risks disaster

Raymond Seed is a director of the Delta Vision Foundation and is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. In the Sacramento Bee describes a potential for interlocking failures in the tightly coupled water system of the Central Valley’s water system: Northern California's wet, cold spring may have ruined many a picnic, but it portends a much more serious crisis once temperatures warm up. Across the Central Valley, communities are bracing for a potential onslaught of runoff water brought on by a rapidly melting snowpack. This circumstance would be considered a threat even in places with a robust emergency preparedness plan and a strong infrastructure. For communities near the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a sudden heat wave and resulting flooding could be disastrous.

The two biggest threats to personal safety of Delta residents are flooding and earthquakes leading to multiple levee failures in the region. Despite recent progress in other areas, realistic preparations by the state for response to a flood or seismic event in the Delta are still sorely lacking, with regard to life safety activities including preparation, rescue and response. In addition, the Delta is the heart of the state's extensive water systems, providing water to more than 23 million Californians. In the case of an earthquake or catastrophic flooding, the state's water, transportation and utility infrastructure could well be disrupted for weeks, months or longer.

…Securing the state's water future will require hard work and a mending of wasteful ways. It will require optimizing efficient water use in every way possible, and constructing new facilities for conveyance and storage. It will also require fostering cooperation among all stakeholders to do what is right for the state as a whole. All of this will need to be accomplished while protecting and restoring the Delta ecosystems while also reducing risks to people, property and the state's economy.

The state's water challenges cannot be solved overnight, but there is now an increasingly clear and defined path forward. The Delta Vision Strategic Plan should be implemented without further delay. If it is not, the Delta will continue to be at risk of either a weather-related or earthquake-related disaster – an entirely foreseeable, preventable and unacceptable disaster, and one just waiting to happen….

A levee along the Sacramento River, shot by Indolences

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