For the last four years Sacramento, like the rest of California, has been focused on dealing with the drought and finding ways to conserve water. This has overshadowed the fact that, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Sacramento area remains “among the most at-risk regions in America for catastrophic flooding.” A large part of the risk is simple geography, with two million people living at the convergence of two major river systems. Sacramento’s levee infrastructure is aging as well, and a break in any part of that system can lead to serious flooding in different parts of the region.
Aging levee infrastructure is not unique to Sacramento. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s levee system a grade of D-minus in its 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” Locally, of the 21 levee systems in Sacramento County rated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, eight have received an unacceptable rating, 11 have receive a minimally acceptable rating, and two have received a fully acceptable rating.
The devastation that occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina was a wakeup call to all communities living in areas of flood risk. Keep in mind that most of the devastation during Katrina was not from the hurricane itself, but from failed flood protection measures. As a result, federal, state and local authorities have increased efforts to help protect the people of Sacramento from this type of disaster.
Building and maintaining our levees require a great deal of coordination between various government agencies. The federal government generally pays 65 percent of the building costs for levees, with states and localities paying the rest. The Army Corps of Engineers often constructs the levees, which are then handed over to a local entity that is required to maintain and operate the levees. In the Sacramento region this is the job of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board in conjunction with the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), of which Supervisor Kennedy is a Board Member.
SAFCA has a number of important projects in the region, but a few of them stand out for their importance for District 2: The Folsom Dam Spillway Project, the South Sacramento Streams Group Project, the Sacramento Bank Protection Project, and the Pocket and Little Pocket Levee Improvement Projects.
• The Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway Project is a crucial piece of flood protection for the region. This federally funded $900 million project will help Sacramento achieve 200-year level of protection. The project will construct an auxiliary spillway to complement the functions of the main Folsom Dam. It will enhance safety during a high water event by allowing water to be released earlier. And, the basin section of the project will slow the water back to normal flow levels that the river channel will be able to withstand. Upon its completion in 2017 this will give water managers in the region much more flexibility in releasing water to prevent a downstream disaster.
• The Sacramento Bank Protection Project is designed to address long term erosion protection along the Sacramento River and its tributaries. Within the Sacramento area, bank protection measures typically consist of large angular rock placed to protect the bank and then a layer of soil/rock material is placed to allow vegetation to grow back on the bank. In addition, dead trees may be added to the mixture for additional habitat value. The Sacramento Bank Protection Project is ongoing every year to help maintain levee safety.
• The South Sacramento Streams Group (SSSG) Project is particularly important for those residents East of Highway 99. The southern portion of the Sacramento Urbanized area has historically been vulnerable to flooding from high water events in the Delta as well as high flows on Morrison Creek, Florin Creek, Elder Creek and Unionhouse Creek. This project contains levee improvements along the Sacramento River as well as raising the levee, constructing floodwalls and making channel improvements to the creeks to help protect the community. The SSSG Project will also construct flood control improvements at Florin Creek Park that will provide a minimum 100-year level of flood protection to residents in the Parkway Estates area. In addition to added safety, this will provide financial relief to over 450 property owners paying high-cost flood insurance. Residents in the area should be aware that there will be disturbances to Florin Creek Park as construction is underway.
• Through a recent evaluation effort, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that levees along the east side of the Sacramento River (Pocket and Little Pocket areas) do not meet current minimum standards for foundation and embankment stability. In order to expedite flood-risk reduction, SAFCA is proposing to construct 6 miles of levee improvements ahead of the Federal process. These levee improvements are also necessary to certify the levee as meeting a minimum 100-year level of flood protection, and ultimately 200-year protection. The type of improvements will include the installation of deep slurry walls within the existing levee at various locations in order to prevent deep under seepage and river bank protection work at several sites along the levee. SAFCA is currently working to develop design plans, secure funding and obtain the necessary permits and authorization from the Corps and State to perform the work. It is anticipated that work along the Sacramento River will begin in 2018.
While the County plays an important role in protecting its residents against the threat of floods, we cannot do it alone. Without the efforts of regional agencies like SAFCA and elected bodies, including our local Congressional delegation and the tireless leadership of Rep. Doris Matsui, Sacramento would not be as safe as it is today. But there is still a great deal to be done and a lot of work coming in the near future.
For more information on flood protection in the Sacramento region visit the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency website at http://www.safca.org.