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Levees tall enough but need strength
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The $170 million levee improvements that will have be made in order for the walls that protect Lathrop and other communities from the San Joaquin River to be compliant with the new Urban Levee Design Criteria are going to need a lot of things.

One thing that they won’t need is height.

According to City Engineer Glen Gebhardt, who was stepping in for City Manager Steve Salvatore, nearly all of the levees that exist within Reclamation District 17 are tall enough to withstand a 200-year flood.

The majority of the improvements, Gebhardt said, will be on making them “bulletproof” in ways that weren’t stipulated when they were granted the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 100-year rating – thinks like earthquake resilience.

A combination of widening, levee buttressing and seepage cutoff walls will be used by crews to turn the existing, aging levee into one that engineers believe will protect thousands of homes if a sudden surge as the result of overflowing dams – similar to what happened in 1997 – were to once again strike the area.

While the levee topic isn’t as flashy as some of the things that come out of City Hall, the state’s mandate that all levees protecting urban areas earn 200-year accreditation has come with a major stipulation – that if the state doesn’t agree that “adequate progress” is being made towards that goal, no further economic development, like homebuilding, can continue in the area until it gets signed off.

The economic impacts of such a requirement, and the project as a whole, are vast.

A report issued by the University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy research found that 46,000 residents and billions of dollars in federal, state, local and private investments would be in jeopardy were the project not to go through.

State Senator Cathleen Galgiani has introduced legislation that would provide the State of California’s $110 million piece of the construction cost. The remaining 35 percent would need to be picked up by local agencies, and Lathrop – all of which falls within the 200-year plain – has taken on the role of trying to organize with other affected agencies. The City of Manteca has teamed up with Lathrop to split a portion of the cost of the early design and engineering work required for the “adequate progress” finding, and a local developer has agreed to foot a portion of that bill, which has stretched into the millions, as well.