Sacramento flood-control officials plan to ask landowners for more money to improve the city’s levees, amounting to an average $42 increase in property taxes.
The work is needed primarily to prevent seepage through levees along the Sacramento River from downtown south to Freeport. Plans also include doubling the size of the Sacramento Weir, located along the Sacramento River near the Interstate 80 overpass, to divert more floodwaters into the Yolo Bypass.
These projects are required following regulatory changes in 2013 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which imposed stricter control over river seepage through levee foundations.
The projects are also needed to satisfy a 2007 state law, which requires all urban areas to achieve 200-year flood protection by 2025.
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Rick Johnson, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, said SAFCA has known for some time that the levees need more work. But the new requirements boosted the cost from about $335 million to an estimated $1.6 billion.
Sacramento homeowners currently pay, on average, an assessment of $57 per year as part of the Consolidated Capital Assessment District. This money serves as a local match for larger piles of state and federal money. The proposed increase would add an average of $42, for a total of $99 per year.
“Unless the assessment passes,” Johnson said, “we don’t have the funding ability right now for the new work that’s required.”
If the work doesn’t get done, he said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency could declare that Sacramento no longer meets standards to survive a 100-year flood (an event with a 1 percent chance of striking in any given year). This could bring a building moratorium across the core of the city, like the one recently lifted in Natomas after seven years, and a flood-insurance requirement.
Johnson emphasized the levees in question do not pose an immediate safety risk. They simply do not meet newer safety standards.
“We want to go ahead and get that work done quickly so it doesn’t trigger a FEMA warning,” he said.
The improvements are described in an Army Corps study known as a “general re-evaluation report.” The Army Corps expects to deliver the study to Congress for authorization in April so the work is eligible for federal money.
But federal funding can take years. Rather than wait, SAFCA officials plan to seek the property tax increase and start the levee improvements on their own, as they did in Natomas.
The SAFCA board of directors, composed of local city and county elected officials, will hold a public hearing on the proposal on Thursday. A final decision is expected April 1.
SAFCA must comply with Proposition 218, a state law governing special-purpose taxes. This requires landowners to vote in an election by mail. If approved by the SAFCA board, ballots would be mailed to property owners in early May. The measure requires a majority vote to pass.
Sacramento-area voters have approved similar increases in the past. In 2007, for instance, they overwhelmingly backed a $326 million property tax to improve Folsom Dam and strengthen levees along the Sacramento and American rivers.
If the tax increase is approved, Johnson said levee construction could begin in 2017.
The work involves building slurry walls inside 6 miles of existing levees to stop deep underseepage. Although this was done previously in numerous areas of Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, some were not built deep enough while other areas still need this upgrading.
SAFCA estimates about 270 mature trees must be removed to make way for the work. Erosion control is also required, which may involve placing boulders, known as “rip-rap,” along miles of the levee’s waterline.
But no acquisition of private property is expected, Johnson said. That is partly because the Sacramento Weir will be enlarged, boosting its capacity to divert water away from the city.
Katy Grimes, president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, said she is “skeptical” about the need for a tax increase. She said her board of directors will discuss whether to take a position on it.
“We typically oppose these things unless there’s a really, really good reason,” Grimes said. “I think it’s going to take a lot of convincing, to be honest.”
Others say it’s a small price to pay for safer levees.
“Do I think the assessment is necessary? You bet your life I do,” said Bill Edgar, a Pocket homeowner who is also president of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, a state agency. “Flood control is our worst infrastructure problem in Sacramento. We’ve got to begin to understand that this particular problem is never solved.”