Sunday, February 19, 2012

Levee fixes in California lead to more building — and more risk

Gosia Wozniacka in via the Associated Press: ...In Lathrop [California], which mushroomed on a Valley floodplain, 18,000 people live in the shadows of levees that once failed. To pave the way for thousands more homes and a tripling of its population, the community is making levee repairs funded largely by $5 billion in state voter-approved flood control bonds.

In California, whose antiquated levee system is the nation's largest, such ambitious plans have raised the stakes in a long-running debate over how much should be built behind levees designed in large part to safeguard farmland, not the 1 million people and $69 billion in property now protected by them.

The planned development in Lathrop and other flood-prone places also has raised questions about whether the state's flood control spending is heading off a potentially disastrous problem or will exacerbate it in the long run.

...An AP analysis of the $3 billion spent so far shows the largest expenditures have focused on improving levees in flood-prone areas where development recently occurred and where much more growth is planned. In several cases, the levee projects were also partially financed by developers waiting to build more housing on the floodplains.

...Critics say this is a poor way to spend the state's flood control dollars, because encouraging new development in floodplains puts more people and property at risk. And higher risk means ever-escalating demands for levee repairs, as well as greater rescue and rebuilding costs after flooding.

"It doesn't make economic sense," said Jeffrey Mount, geology professor at UC Davis. "The state should not be funding projects that induce growth and increase flood risk."....Experts say the state needs to do more to limit aggressive development behind levees....

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 Eplett/FEMA

No comments: