Sacramento Levees: Potential Flood Threat Essay

1333 words - 5 pages

Sacramento is a city surrounded by water, with both the Sacramento and the American Rivers running through it, as well as a vast array of levees. Many populated areas are above water only because the levees are holding back millions of gallons of water. The Sacramento levee system has been the target of great scrutiny in the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina, because levee failures caused much of the devastation in New Orleans. This examination brings up questions of whether or not the Sacramento levee system can be repaired, if development in the area should continue, and whether or not homeowners should be required to carry flood insurance.The Sacramento levee system covers 2,600 miles and protects people in flood plain areas by holding back water from the Sacramento central valley region (Aston, 36). The levee system was built in the 1900's, primarily to protect 4 million acres of farmland. It was not built to protect an entire city of 2 million, 500,000 of which are in flood plains (Aston, 36).The Sacramento levee system is the second largest levee system in the nation, but it is in very poor repair. The Sacramento levee system is actually in worse repair than the New Orleans levees during Katrina, and has received a grade of "F" from The American Society of Civil Engineers (Ritter, 4A). Due to the weakness in the levee, certain regions have been deemed unsafe by the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA. One of these regions is the Natomas area, which could be under 20 feet of water if the levees failed (Ritter, 4A).There are many possible causes of flooding due to levee failure in Sacramento. An earthquake could cause the weak levees to collapse. "A big quake, say 6.5 on the Richter scale, would 'liquefy' the levees" (Aston, 36). A very long and wet winter, which would create a lot of snow in the nearby mountains, followed by a few warm spring days, and a strong spring storm, could produce more water than the levees could handle, causing flooding. Levee failure could also be caused by settling, seepage or tunneling rodents. "Levees are piles of dirt. They have a tendency to fail. If people are living behind levees, many feet below the water surface level, it is only a matter of time 'til some of them flood" (Kollars, 2005).A levee failure in the Sacramento area could potentially cause great damage. The financial damage could be far greater than that in New Orleans, even though the loss of life would be less (Aston, 36), presumably due to being less densely populated. The American River alone would flood Arden, Cal Expo, and CSU Sacramento (figure 1), with damages in the millions of dollars. The Sacramento River would flood the Sacramento airport, Del Paso, and El Centro, just to name a few (figure 2). These areas include many single family developments. The homes are expensive and, although most have insurance, a high percentage of homeowners do not carry flood insurance. In fact, in Sacramento County as of 2004, only 15.4% of homes had flood...

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