Five years ago at the end of August, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on lives and property along the Gulf Coast.
Almost immediately, the members of California’s Reclamation Board voted to review all urban development plans proposed for Central Valley flood plains. This was a rarely-used power given the Reclamation Board by state law.
At the end of September 2005, the LA Times reported that Governor Schwarzenegger had fired all six members of the Reclamation Board and replaced them with seven of his own appointees, most with ties to agriculture and engineering.
One of the fired board members was Jeffrey Mount, who was quoted by the Times as saying “All I know is, we made a lot of people unhappy.” He had been arguing for regional land use planning that wouldn’t allow for building behind agricultural levees.
Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying “we need a comprehensive and ongoing effort to reduce [flood] risks with better planning, new investments and improved flood infrastructure.” Translation: Let’s get busy and build some dams and a canal.
In late 2006, the BDCP Steering Committee was formed.
Also in 2006, voters approved Prop. 84, which included $800,000 for flood control. At the same time, they approved Prop. 1E – $4.09 billion in general obligation bonds specifically for disaster preparedness and flood protection. Included in Prop. 1E was $35 million “to reinforce those sections of the levees that have the highest potential to suffer breaches or failure and cause harm to municipal and industrial water supply aqueducts that cross the Delta and which are vulnerable to flood damage.”
This past June, we reported that EBMUD had partnered with Delta reclamation districts to propose a Delta Levees Special Flood Control Project that would protect the District’s Mokelumne Aqueducts, Kinder Morgan petroleum pipeline, Burlington Northern Santa Fe raid line, and other Delta infrastructure, including State Highway 4. The project would use Prop. 1E money.
The FloodSAFE Environmental Stewardship and Statewide Resources Office (FESSRO), Delta Levees Special Projects Branch, recommended moving ahead with the project.
But last November’s legislation gave the Delta Stewardship Council authority to review and approve Prop. 1E expenditures. And they didn’t like this one. DSC staff told the Council that indemnifications for the project weren’t adequate and that more CEQA work was needed.
DSC didn’t approve the project, so the legislative mandate wasn’t met, and the funds (which had to be reserved by June 30) reverted.
Now we learn, as reported last week, that the California Department of Finance is refusing to release $120 million for levee upgrades on islands in the Delta, projects approved in 2008 and 2009.
Delta engineers understood that bonds sold during March-April and October-November 2009 were adequate to fund projects awarded grants. The state could argue that it makes more sense to fund projects protecting urban areas, which reduce the state’s liability. But that wasn’t what voters voted for.
And given the interconnectedness of the levee protection system, holding up money for projects ready to go forward increases the potential risk for everyone.
Blogger Patricia McBroom interviewed Mike Miramazaheri, manager of the delta levees program at the State Department of Water Resources (DWR). He told her that cash flow on delta levee projects has fallen behind by about two years since 2007.
That’s about the time Schwarzenegger’s Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force was getting going.
While State Water Contractors and dam advocates move ahead with planning for massively expensive infrastructure to protect export water supplies, the Department of Finance and the DSC find reasons to delay far less costly local projects that would protect people and infrastructure in the Delta (and therefore water supplies for the rest of the state as well).
The administration could hardly come up with a better strategy than this if it WANTED a disaster in the Delta, just to prove a point.
Last week, we expressed an interest in knowing why the Department of Finance isn’t releasing these important funds.
We’re still waiting for an answer on that.
(By the way, if you haven’t heard of the Reclamation Board lately, that’s because it doesn’t exist any more. After 96 years of flood management, it was replaced a couple of years ago by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.)