Will the Major Players in California’s Delta Collaborate to Prevent the 'Next Katrina?’
Bill Croyle, chief of the Flood Operations Branch of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), said the department has benefited from an increase in grant monies since Katrina, and a lot of that money is going toward improving communications within the department and with other stakeholders. But making those improvements is a long, detailed process that involves working groups and a lot of reaching out.
“The major emphasis for our Delta Risk Reduction Project is really the major earthquake threat,” Croyle said. “It’s an interesting scenario because it does require all the parties that have resources — the environmental side, the infrastructure side — really need to be aware of what we are all doing. In other words, we need to know what the pipeline and railroad people are thinking.”
Those efforts by the DWR and California in general, though in their early stages, are praised by outside experts. The state’s FloodSAFE program paints a picture of the various risks, the different stakeholders, the various solutions each stakeholder can take and how they are all important toward a common goal.
“You’ve got to do all those things,” Galloway said. “California recognizes that you’re not going to solve all the problems by levee repairs. It’s a message in my view that they get it.”
The state allocated $500 million in 2006 for Central Valley repair projects and voters approved $37.2 million in bond issues for infrastructure improvements, including levee maintenance and repairs.
The levee repairs are an “emergency,” according to Jeffrey Mount, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, and are akin to “patching an old tire.” The effort to protect Californians also will have to involve other measures, including setting aside land, such as farmland, to store water and limiting construction in flood-hazard areas, which are very difficult things to accomplish.
Compensating farmers for the land and convincing developers to build in areas that aren’t in danger of disastrous floods are two critical components that are difficult to carry out. Building a proposed Auburn Dam in the foothills above the delta would provide more flood control capacity — but would be difficult to accomplish politically, damaging to the environment and probably just too expensive. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is advocating for a peripheral canal designed to route fresh water around the delta to assure the flow of water in case of an earthquake.
The Wary Stakeholders
The DWR is working toward breaking down some of the long-standing barriers between the stakeholders related to the delta and burnishing the message that it’s worth working with them.
“When you actually reach out to talk to some of the farmers, they’re frustrated because our agency provides water as well as flood response, and they assume when I walk into the room that my end game is water to Southern California,” Croyle said. “That’s not my job. I’m supposed to respond to any and all flood responses throughout the state. The delta is a critical piece of the whole state.”
Like the farmers, some of the other key players in the whole interconnected infrastructure realm operate in stovepipes or are a bit wary of outsiders. “We haven’t actually talked to the gas main people and the railroad people are a little bit off to the side and seem to be, we’ve heard, monitoring our discussions,” Croyle said.
Along with trying to locate more chokepoints, the center is attempting to interview some of what they call the “real-time” workers, those who work daily in the field and might understand the vulnerabilities of the infrastructure better than the policymakers.
Croyle acknowledged that there are people with knowledge who aren’t being heard. “The fear is that you miss somebody who’s been around forever, who has some great ideas or a perspective we haven’t thought about, but we haven’t provided a forum that is comfortable for them to engage us.”
Some of the different agencies are concerned about who will get resources first in case of a disaster. There are only so many barges and cranes to go around and those need to be allocated to the areas with the greatest need, regardless of who has a contract with whom, Croyle said.
And he said some don’t understand the magnitude of a delta disaster if a major earthquake were to occur or a major levee to breach and what it would mean for the state.
“I’m a little concerned that they don’t actually fully appreciate that if this happens, this is going to be a Katrina-type response,” Croyle said. “Everybody in the world is going to be dropping into the delta.”
Delving Into the Delta
Some key points about the delta and its importance to California:
- The delta receives runoff from more than 40 percent of California’s land area. Major rivers that drain the state’s Central Valley — including the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Calaveras, Cosumnes and Mokelumne — eventually meet and flow through the delta on their way to the Pacific Ocean.
- The delta supports more than 80 percent of the state’s commercial salmon fisheries, as well as 750 distinct species of plants and wildlife.
- It’s a key source of water for 23 million Californians and more than 7 million acres of farmland.
- The delta includes more than 730,000 acres of farmland and wildlife habitat.
- About two-thirds of delta islands and tracts are below sea level.
- The delta relies on more than 1,100 miles of levees — many of which were built more than a century ago — to keep islands and tracts dry and protect other key infrastructure from floods and high tides.
- Delta levees protect more than 520,000 acres of farmland and three state highways, a railroad, natural gas and electric transmission facilities, and aqueducts serving water to parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Delta levees help safeguard the lives and personal property of more than 400,000 people living in nearby towns and cities. Some delta towns are among the fastest growing areas in the state.
- Two of California’s biggest water projects — the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project — rely on the delta to convey water from Northern California rivers to project pumping facilities in the southern delta.
- Delta levees play a critical role in preventing salty water from the San Francisco Bay from intruding into critical parts of the delta and contaminating the fresh water that supplies communities and farms.
- Most delta levees are maintained by local agencies, such as reclamation and levee districts.
Source: Association of California Water Agencies