Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Levee Blues

I will be spending my New Year's indoors and hopeful that the levees that surround Sacramento keep doing a good job. I have been glued to the television all morning watching the Helicopter shots of the farmland and levees around my mother's house. A restaurant that we ate at last night is now swelled with water and the owner had to cancel all his reservations for tonight.

I also learned a new word today: weir. I just thought it was the last name of a film director. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) just opened 20 gates at the Sacramento Weir today. They had intended to wait until 2 pm, but, alas, the rivers are spilling out of the banks. The news just reported that the Napa River is 5 feet over the flooding point and the Consumnes river, which is about 1/3 of a mile from my mom's house is a foot over flooding capacity. Here is a link to flood maps.

I am still a bit amazed by all of this and hope that we are fine. The Bureau of Reclamation pays the farmers to allow the water to run off into their land when flooding season hits Sacramento. This is, indeed, one good buffer against houses getting flooded. However, rain storms keep coming and so I am not sure what the extent of the flooding damage will be.

The Sacramento Bee reported today in its "Hot Topics for 2006" that maintaining the levees around Sacramento is an important priority:

Staying high and dry

There is no major metropolitan area in America more at risk of a catastrophic Katrina-style flood than Sacramento. Our levees provide less protection than in most big cities across the country. Will our federal, state and local officials find a way to address the grave risks? Before the Big One hits?

I'll keep you posted of any new developments.

Before ending this post, I want to reflect a bit on the power of water and its ability to bring all our human projects to a standstill. Such an elemental thing, water, and yet so capable of wiping out whole civilizations. Marc Reisner's book, Cadillac Desert, which does a good job depicting the political and economic history of water projects, particularly out here in the West, begins with a discussion of the disappearance of the once thriving Hohokam culture whose fate was fatally tied up to dependence on water. Here is a link to a summary of the PBS series that was made out of the book (PBS retired the site).

While my fear is that CA will collapse without water, what irony if it comes to a standstill because the miles and miles of damns, sluices, dikes, weirs, and other water projects that re-elected many a politician do not protect the cities and economy they were built for.