On March 1, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency to call attention to the threat of California’s vulnerable levee system.
This was a wakeup call for politicians throughout the country, including President Bush himself. Following the governor’s declaration, Homeland Security chief Micheal Chertoff pledged his dedication to helping resolve the dilemma. He and Governor Schwarzenegger discussed the importance of preparing the federal government to respond to a disaster in the country’s most populous state.
The levee system east of Sacramento, including the Yuba-Sutter area, which diverges water away from communities, has not been well maintained for years. The U.S. army Corps of Engineers has identified 24 critical sites that could fail during the next flood season, nearly half of which are located in the Yuba-Sutter area. Eight of these sites are on the Sacramento River between the Sutter County Line and the Glenn County line. Engineers estimate that the Valley’s levee system, consisting of more that 2,500 miles, will cost an astounding $12 billion to repair fully. The Sacramento-San Joaquin delta levees, perceived as the most threatening sites, cover 738,000 acres and serve as the source of drinking water for 22 million Californians, and irrigation for Central Valley farmers.
In January, Schwarzenegger collaborated with state Senator Dianne Feinstein in writing a letter addressed to President Bush, declaring that the new year’s storms were a sign that immediate action must be taken to prevent a catastrophic disaster. “While California avoided a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster,” wrote Schwarzenegger and Feinstein, “its levees and flood control systems must be strengthened in order to adequately protect lives, property, and the state’s vibrant economy.” Since Governor Schwarzenegger became aware of the dangerous situation, he and his supporters have been lobbying hard for levee funding.
Geologist Dr. Jeff Mount at Davis University believes the California levee system, as it is now, will have a major break in the next 50 years. “There are two kinds of levees,” said Mount, “the ones that failed and the ones that will fail.” A recent study done by the University of California supporting Dr. Mount’s suspicions concluded that there is a 66 percent chance of either a major flood or earthquake occurring that would cause irreparable damage, causing complete levee failure within the next 50 years. The levees ultimately were not built to endure the fierce climate conditions that they have faced over time. Some levees were built over 100 years ago, and their weaknesses make them susceptible to imminent damage.
Governor Schwarzenegger– along with state Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and Representatives Doris Matsui, Dan Lungren and Richard Pombo– took an aerial tour this past February of the American River, Sacramento River and the Delta system.
Leaders for the state Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency also took part. They concluded that if the levees fail, 400,000 people of Sacramento alone would be in danger, as well as the majority of California’s water supply. The state senator, along with other congressional leaders, have vowed to assist Schwarzenegger in getting emergency funding California needs and a state bond issue passed.
“This is a major problem not just for the city of Sacramento but for the state of California and the entire country,” said Representative Richard Pombo. Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo believes the level of federal interest in Sacramento’s flood risks has grown significantly since the flooding in New Orleans, and will continue to do so.
Governor Schwarzenegger has requested that over half a billion dollars in federal funding should be given to California in order to begin repairing the state’s 24 critically eroded sites. Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke, however, attempted to downplay the emergency of the situation, revealing that federal laws urge, if not require, the president to withhold from declaring disaster until after disaster strikes.