Watch Coast Guard helicopters rescue Harvey victims from rapidly rising floodwaters

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston airlifted victims of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to safety on Sunday, August 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. People and their pets were hoisted up to a helicopter.
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U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston airlifted victims of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to safety on Sunday, August 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. People and their pets were hoisted up to a helicopter.
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Editorials

As Hurricane Harvey hits Gulf Coast, Central Valley must prepare for the coming storm

By the Editorial Board

August 30, 2017 04:00 AM

A day before Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston, an obscure arm of the California Department of Water Resources delivered a report detailing the impact of the Central Valley deluge that surely will strike, and how best to prepare for it.

We in this reclaimed city and in this re-engineered valley need to pay heed. Even in this past week of wilting heat, storm clouds are gathering.

In issuing its flood protection plan, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board achieved a rare feat. It called for more taxes and more land use regulations, yet won the support of both farmers and environmentalists.

The Big One in the form of a superstorm may come this winter, or the next or the one after that. But it is headed this way. And the bill for handling it is past due.

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Yes, another dam may be needed. Levees certainly must be strengthened. But the report recognized that water flows where gravity takes it, and that over time, nature will defeat mere mortals.

The plan calls for something called multi-benefit flood management, a notion that floodways and bypasses must be expanded and building in floodplains must be limited.

Anyone driving over the Yolo Causeway has witnessed the concept. In wet winters, the Yolo Bypass becomes a vast lake. In the summer, it is rich farm land. Year-round, it is habitat.

New bypasses and expanded floodways will be needed along the San Joaquin River, says the report by the board, led by former Sacramento City Manager Bill Edgar. Environmentalist groups including American Rivers, CalTrout and Trout Unlimited embraced the report, as did the California Farm Bureau.

“Giving rivers and floodways more room to carry flood waters is the best way to protect communities from dangerous floods, and giving rivers more room provides multiple benefits, including clean water, parks, and habitat for fish and wildlife,” John Cain of American Rivers said in a statement.

The Big One in the form of a superstorm may come this winter, or the next or the one after that. But it is headed this way. In the Gulf Coast, there is the Mayan Express. On the West Coast, there is the Pineapple Express. They produce atmospheric rivers.

In 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report detailing what would happen in an extreme winter storm, something they called “Atmospheric River 1000,” a storm that would produce rain experienced every 500 to 1,000 years. It could strike in any given year.

One hit when the North and South fought the Civil War in the winter of 1861 and 1862. The Central Valley became impassable, and Gov. Leland Stanford needed to be rowed to his inauguration.

The hypothetical flooding would spread 300 miles, from Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties to the Bay Area and east into the Central Valley.

Winds could hit 125 miles per hour, and there would be hundreds of landslides. As many as 1.5 million people in the valley and Delta counties would need to evacuate. Power, water and sewer service would take weeks or months to restore.

The report predicted as many as 50 levee breaches in the Delta region. Their failure would affect water deliveries via the State Water Project and Central Valley Project to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The report did not anticipate that the concrete spillway at Oroville Dam would crumble, as it did this past winter. Oroville, presumably among the most well-maintained dams in the state, is but one of 1,500 dams in California.

Costs to business and property damage could be “on the order of $725 billion,” triple the loss “deemed to be realistic” when the Big One strikes in the form of a severe Southern California earthquake, the USGS reported.

The Central Valley Flood Protection Board plan said Californians must spend as much as $21 billion during the next three decades to prepare for floods in the Central Valley. Statewide, the number exceeds $50 billion.

The need seems clear. The method of payment remains in question. President Donald Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure spending package. Eight months into the administration, there’s still talk but no money.

In 2014, California voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, including $2.7 billion for new or expanded reservoirs. Earlier this month, the State Water Commission received 12 proposals seeking $13 billion for surface storage projects.

They include a new Sites Reservoir in Glenn and Colusa counties, Temperance Flat reservoir east of Fresno, and an expanded Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County. A decision is expected next summer, not soon enough.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is carrying Senate Bill 5, a $3.5 billion bond, with money for parks, environmental restoration and water and flood control projects.

As it sits, the bond, which needs legislative approval and would be on the November 2018 ballot, would provide $300 million for flood protection, including $100 million for levee repairs and restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The $300 million would be a start. In our view, more of the $3.5 billion should used for flood control.

The Central Valley board’s report urges that lawmakers increase the $40 million currently spent annually on flood management to $190 million by the end of the 30-year period. Just as California cannot rely on Uncle Sam, locals should not wait for the state.

The report noted an entity called the Sacramento and San Joaquin Drainage District hasn’t levied a tax in nearly 80 years. It could be reconstituted and would raise perhaps $25 million a year, an idea that ought to be explored.

Gov. Jerry Brown has said that so long as we Californians live and prosper in this re-engineered state, we must “belly up to the bar,” and pay for it. We know the storm is headed this way. The bill is past due.