Much of Sacramento’s charm flows from the American and Sacramento rivers. Those rivers also are a threat.
The weak El Niño and years of drought notwithstanding, Sacramento remains the most flood-prone U.S. city this side of New Orleans. For all the levee work that has been completed – $2 billion worth since 1990 – more is needed.
On Thursday, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency Board of Directors will meet to consider calling again on property owners in the region’s flood-prone areas to vote to dig a little deeper.
If the board approves the vote, as seems likely, ballots would be mailed on April 29 to property owners in flood zones. They’d have 45 days to cast their votes. The flood control agency plans to hold meetings in May to explain the costs and benefits of the assessment.
The need for reinforced levees is obvious, as anyone knows who was here in 1986, when flooding killed several people and forced the evacuation of thousands, or in 1997 when raging water topped river levees.
Some Natomas residents may protest that they’ve already paid for 18 miles of levee work, and shouldn’t be expected to pay again. But another 24 miles of Natomas levees need upgrading, and tighter state and federal requirements are adding to costs.
Other work also is needed along the Sacramento and American rivers from Folsom Dam to the Pocket, and down to south Sacramento, which is subject to flooding from Strawberry and Morrison creeks and various tributaries.
Flood control experts say a levee breach could inundate the Pocket, Land Park, River Park and Natomas within an hour. Water could be 20 feet deep in parts of the city.
California law requires that property owners who would be direct beneficiaries of the levee work bear the cost, even though anyone who drives on freeways or flies out of Sacramento International Airport would benefit.
The current average assessment for flood control of $57 would rise to $99, higher or lower in some areas depending on the type of land and the cost of the improvements.
Local fees would generate $250 million for construction over 30 years, plus $121 million for operations and maintenance. The state and feds would more than match the outlay of the $3.6 billion project.
Assessments would vary depending on the property’s location and its zoning. Farmland would pay relatively little. Developed industrial, commercial and residential property would pay more.
The additional fees would generate $250 million for construction spread over 30 years, plus $121 million for operations and maintenance. The state and feds would match locals’ outlay by more than six to one, for a total estimated cost of $3.6 billion.
The goal is to protect all areas in flood zones against 200-year floods by 2025, a requirement of state law. The alternative – rejection of the levee – could result in a halt to new construction and higher flood insurance premiums for property owners.
Flood control work isn’t glamorous, like a new sports arena, or interesting, like a striking piece of public art. It’s scarcely noticed, unlike, say, a repaved freeway or a new overpass.
Levee work is more like insurance. No want wants to spend money to insure against a calamity that may not happen any time soon. But when the deluge comes – and history tells us that it will arrive one day – we’ll all be glad when the levees hold.