As the Governator steps down he faces widespread criticism about the economic and environmental condition of California, but there is one particular issue that hasn't seen a whole lot of attention--its levees.
Thirteen hundred miles of weakened levees are on the brink of breaking, potentially leading to a Katrina-sized disaster in central California, reports Paul Tullis in the Jan. 3 edition of Miller-McCune. It would leave 520,000 acres of farmland and 515,000 residents in immediate danger, and there seems to be a real probability of it happening in the next two decades.
The threat to the levees stems from the very real fact that California is due for a large earthquake--one that could rattle the levees to their core. According to one report, there is a 63% chance that an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 or greater could hit the state's infamous Hayward fault in the next 25 years.
The levees were built mostly by the Chinese in the mid-1800s and haven't been attended to as well as they should mainly due to rivaling, fractious groups spread throughout the state. The majority of organized groups see the danger--much like climate change--as imminent and real, but some are unconcerned and just want to leave the levees alone. With severe budget deficits like the state currently has, scaring up cash for long-term planning can be painful and difficult. (Getting an exact figure on current repair costs is tricky--one estimate puts the price tag at $750 million; another has it jacked up to $53 billion.)
But costs cut both ways--and human costs can't be so easily calculated. If undeterred by earthquakes and flooding threats, the anti-rebuilding groups might be swayed by the fiscal damage that would be inflicted by such a disaster--a single levee break previously cost the state $450 million in damages and in a separate instance, when a beaver got busy with his digging in the wrong place, it took $90 million to fix the damaged levee.
There are solutions--namely building a peripheral canal or blocking water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta--but discussions remain held up by bureaucratic insider debates.
So will central California see its own Katrina? Or will the powers that be (hello, new/old governor!) respond before it's too late? Only time will tell. The clock is ticking.
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[Rotator image by Nate Mandos]