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Penny wise and pound foolish

DWR Director Mark Cowin has made it clear to Delta reclamation district engineers that the state’s priority for levees is to save the state money rather than to protect the people, infrastructure, and economic activities of the Delta.

The flood management investment framework being promoted by DWR endorses a baseline levee requirement using “minimum geometry criteria” – basically, something that looks like a levee – rather than an engineering standard designed to actually protect people and property.

The geometric configuration, referred to as HMP (Hazard Mitigation Plan), is (to quote Cowin) “a pre-requisite for, though not a guarantee of, post-flood disaster assistance from FEMA.”

A more robust levee type promoted by Delta reclamation districts meets the PL 84-99 standard, a Delta-specific standard developed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Delta engineers had written to Cowin expressing concern. Says Delta engineer Chris Neudeck, “We were appealing to [Cowin’s] engineering sense. He took an economic approach instead.”

Delta Protection Commission Director Mike Machado says that in accepting the HMP configuration, the Delta Stewardship Council is not looking at levees as a system. He agrees that any new investment should go first to levees that are currently below HMP but argues that we should be working toward the PL 84-99 standard at the same time.

Neudeck notes that there may be no economic benefit for saving one particular island, but not saving it may affect the whole system.

In the event of a major flood event in the Delta, 80% of the economic loss and 100% of the loss of life would occur within the Delta. Export interests would bear only 20% of the economic loss and no loss of life.

You might say that this is the approach that the State would take if they WANTED the Delta levee system to ultimately fail.

See Cowin’s letter here.

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