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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'm sure FEMA can handle it

So why did they build an entire city in a flood plain below sea level? More to the point, why do they continue to do it? Apparently, a moderate earthquake in California's Central Valley could make Katrina seem like just a little glitch by comparison. From the WSWS:
On November 1, 2005 California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) issued a report stating that a simple 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Northern California’s Delta region could produce more than 30 levee breaches on 16 Delta islands. This would flood tens of thousands of homes and a massive area of productive farmland, causing around $30 billion in damages. However, the most alarming news, by far, was the realization that such an event could render unusable the drinking water supply of two-thirds of all Californians.

The United States Geological Service estimates that there is a 62 percent probability that an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.7 or greater will strike the San Francisco Bay region before 2032. According to the DWR report, this would liquefy several portions of the levee system, causing a massive release of fresh water. Salt water from the San Francisco Bay would then be sucked into the Delta to replace the fresh water in a phenomena described as “the big gulp,” shutting down the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. These two water projects together serve 25 million Californians. Major power and gas transmission lines would also be damaged, impacting energy delivery throughout the state.
You can see the DWR's presentation online. The WSWS goes on to point out that, even as the levees rot and the earthquake clock ticks, tens of thousands of homes continue to be built in the flood plain. Developers connected to both Republicans and Democrats are making far too much money from the housing bubble for sanity to even enter the picture. Meanwhile, FEMA admits that its floodplain maps are outdated, as is its flood safety standard.

My brother and nieces live in Northern California, and I read several California-based blogs. The DWR report came out a month ago. Why wasn't this bigger news? Or is it just common knowledge?

More highlights from the WSWS:
Lathrop officials have approved the addition of 9,000 homes to an area west of Interstate 5 despite the fact that the abutting levee suffered seepage problems as recently as 1997. City officials didn’t require developers to upgrade or even certify the levee. In a show of proud ignorance, Lathrop even opted to build its City Hall behind the levee. “I think that’s a pretty good vote of confidence,” City Manager Pam Carder told the Stockton Record.

In Stockton, The Grupe Co. announced a proposal this month to build more than 7,000 homes, offices and stores on a Delta island that flooded in 1983. A ground squirrel reportedly caused the flood when it burrowed into the levee. Kevin Huber, the company’s president, blithely told the Stockton Record, “We don’t think that’s a problem.”
Two of the biggest developers, Alex Spanos and Fritz Grupe, are heavy financial supporters of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Spanos alone contributed $2 million to “Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team,” an Orwellian euphemism for the committee used to push his now failed ballot measures.

After the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans, the California Water Reclamation Board, the agency with direct responsibility for the levees, announced that it would review all developments proposed in flood-prone areas. In response to developer complaints, Schwarzenegger removed the entire board and made his own appointments.
Kleptocracy--destroying America, one levee at a time.