about those levees

Increasingly, I’m seeing the Sacramento Delta argument turned, from the traditional water conveyance and water users v. fish frame to a focus on levees. Here’s the San Jose Mercury News editorial board:

The primitive conditions of the levees guarding the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are shocking. The Delta is mostly below sea level. It provides water to 65 percent of Californians, including more than half of Silicon Valley, and those fragile levees are the only thing preventing salt water from San Francisco Bay from spoiling the fresh water flowing from the rivers.

Hundreds of miles of levees were built out of sand and dirt by immigrants, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow load, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Saying they’re primitive is kind. They are at extreme risk of collapsing in an earthquake or flood. State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, calls them “California’s Katrina waiting to happen.”

But neither Brown nor the Legislature has even tried to expedite repairing the levees. Last week, the state ballot proposition for an $11 billion water bond was postponed again, this time until 2014. That’s fine because we can’t imagine that porker passing anyway, but the $1 billion in absolutely necessary repairs to the levees should have been done years ago.



  1. The Merc has been pretty aggressive in calling for South Bay levees to be paid for by the general public rather than by the direct beneficiaries of the project(s), primarily some very large and influential Silicon Valley businesses. If taxpayers foot the bill for a Delta levee fix the South Bay stuff would be more likely to go the same way.

    But assuming the editorial’s figure for a Delta levee fix is correct (haven’t checked), it’s such a small fraction of the cost of Jerry’s pipe that at least it’ll be tough to use the latter for political cover.

  2. I recall in a presentation I heard in 2008 (if memory serves), the reference to levees in California and Katrina was to the North Natomas Spillway failing and the city of Sacramento being flooded as a result. http://matsui.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2936:regions-future-will-be-tied-to-infrastructure-we-build-today&catid=29&Itemid=89 The levee on the Sacramento River in the Pocket Road area (South Sacramento) was also cited.

    California DWR http://www.water.ca.gov/nav/nav.cfm?loc=t&id=100 is a good place to start to study up on the levee system in the delta.


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