First question: Why does Sacramento — built in a flood zone on the biggest river in terms of water volume in all of California — never flood?
Part of the reason is much of the town was elevated in the latter part of the 19th century much like large swaths of modern-day San Francisco sits on large chunks of the bay that have been filled in. But there is another big reason — the Yolo Bypass. It is a wide, manmade bypass of Sacramento that takes water when the river reaches 33.8 feet and starts spilling through a weir north of the Capital City.
Second question: If dredging is such a hideous thing for the environment then why is it allowed in the middle of the most sensitive water ecological system in California — the Delta — to accommodate shipping from the Port of Stockton as well as the Port of Sacramento?
It can’t be done on the most constricted part of the San Joaquin River between Vernalis and Mossdale Crossing to the southwest of Manteca because of worries about fish yet the deep water channel slices through the heart of the Delta. Could it be it has something to do with the timing of dredging minimizing impacts on fish?
These two questions are worth $168 million plus interest under Senate Bill 5 that represents serious overkill in terms of California flood protection.
The state has mandated protection of 200-year floodplains or else new development and upgrades of existing developed areas whether it is an addition of a covered patio, a room, barn, or expansion of a business building comes to an end. The first drop dead mark is this July 1. Jurisdictions have to show reasonable progress toward a funding mechanism and a plan for 200-year flood protection to be in place by 2022 or else the state shuts down growth.
The 200-year event standard was a knee jerk reaction to the failure of levees around New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina and the whipped up frenzy over Delta levees collapsing during a major earthquake fed by Southern California water interests pushing for the Twin Tunnels. If that sounds far-fetched consider this: There has never been a 200-year event in terms of flooding since the levees have been in place, levees have never failed during an earthquake as they act like Jell-O, there is no major active earthquake in the Delta, and the issue with flooding in the southeast Delta and the rivers feeding into it has never been about levees having water flow over the top.
The nine floods southwest of Manteca along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers since 1927 have involved primarily sand boils created by seepage during flood stages. It is essentially groundwater working in concert with soil saturation and pressure caused by increased river water. Sand boils can be countered with aggressive sand bagging. What this suggests is the material in the levees — while it made sense to use adjoining farmland soil in the 19th century to create them — are composed of material that isn’t conducive for optimum flood protection.
For that reason concentrating on the upgrading of existing levees and finding ways to reduce water volume on the river side of levees would seem the most effective way to reduce the prospect of any future flooding.
If flood protection is such a high priority issue for California then why did it’s nearly dozen agencies that deal with water issues allow a proven remedy to reduce water pressure and volume — the creation of a bypass — to languish for 13 years at the federal level as work proposed for the Paradise Cut was being reviewed?
Representatives of those same agencies have made it clear dredging what many familiar with the river believes is a six to eight foot build-up of silt since the 1950s from Vernalis to Mossdale Crossing was a non-starter. River barge traffic 140 years ago went as far south as San Joaquin City south of the Airport Way bridge crossing. Today they couldn’t make it much past Mossdale.
There is agreement among many that deal with the reality of floods and not in hypothetical scenarios in the comfort of state office buildings in Sacramento that Paradise Cut widening work that is finally nearing the approval point after 13 years of waiting and the dredging of the river could provide 200-year flood protection at a significantly lower cost and more effective manner. This, of course, will not be acceptable because Sacramento decided in advance that is the case.
Wed the issue of too much water with not enough water and the accompanying posturing as well as the Twin Tunnels and its clear politics is a much deadlier force than water could ever be.
Trying to stop the madness that is forcing the $168 million 200-year flood protection solution for the South County and replace it with something arguably more effective and a lot less expensive is a lost cause.
That’s because the environmental perfectionist-career bureaucrat-LA water complex has spoken.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.