Army Corps of Engineers Cuts Sacramento and Its Vulvernable Levees Loose

Monday, August 27, 2012

The state has been told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the levee system for  Sacramento—the most flood-prone city in America—is so bad, and the state’s plan for fixing it is so deficient, that it won’t help pay to rebuild if disaster strikes.

The corps decision affects Sacramento and 15 other areas in the Central Valley between the American and Sacramento rivers. While recent discussion about funding expensive, much-needed repairs for levees has centered on the area southwest of the capital, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Sacramento’s aged and fragile system has long been under scrutiny.

The corps report addressed an area containing 40 miles of levees that are being encroached upon by structures, swimming pools and fences and found the state’s solutions to be woefully lacking in specificity.

The state had three years to come up with a plan that would satisfy the corps, qualify it for some rebuilding funds and, most importantly, let it pass the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) requirement that the levees be able to survive a 100-year flood. As it stands, that certification would come from the last agency to certify the levees as sound―the Army Corps of Engineers.

While the state would miss money from the corps, it might be able to scrape together replacement funds from other sources, like Congress. But if it loses the FEMA approval, area residents might have to pay an additional $1,200+ for individual flood insurance policies.

Sacramento officials figure they have until 2014 to do their own self-certification, and try to bypass the agency, to satisfy FEMA.

The determination by the corps that the levees maintenance plan was deficient wasn’t based on any new information; it was based on inspections from 2009 and 2011. The Katrina devastation of New Orleans changed some of the standards used in the past that were more forgiving of pre-existing conditions and allowed more flexibility for working around financial limitations.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:    

Sacramento Levees Fail Federal Maintenance Criteria (by Matt Weiser, Sacramento Bee)

California’s Next Nightmare (by Alex Prud’homme, New York Times)

The Coming Deluge (by Andrea Todd, Sacramento Magazine)

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