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Nov 18 2011

PBS Video: Overcoming the Deluge–California’s Plan for Managing Floods

This video was actually a show that aired on PBS on November 9th, 2011. It’s a great episode that covers how Hurricane Katrina put a spotlight on Sacramento and the risk posed in the area with a century-old levee system. It has some good interviews and gives some historical background on the levee system. It’s almost a half-hour long but worth watching.

They mention in the video that the standard for flood protection in an urban situation is for a 100-year flood. If we’ve learned anything in 2011, it’s that the 100-year flood is not always what it seems and not very well understood by most people. Flood insurance is not a great solution but it at least alerts residents to the reality of the potential for flooding even though you’re “protected” by a levee. The truth is that if you’re living behind a levee, you’re living in a place where the water naturally wants to go and has gone in the past. The problem is what do you do when you have an urban corridor that you can’t just let flood. You can’t just let Sacramento and the Central Valley flood, there are simply too many lives at stake. The flooding in Minot was devastating. The flood in Bangkok has been a nightmare. Given the conditions and infrastructure, a Sacramento flood could be even worse.

1 comment

  1. Jessica Ludy

    Thank you for posting this video. A couple of interesting points.
    There is widespread agreement 100-year standard as being insufficient for urban areas. Especially because when the NFIP was started in 1968, the 1% chance was decided as an appropriate threshold for insurance purchase, not a decision that the 100-year flood was an acceptable level of risk.

    In 2007/2008, California passed legislation (SB 5) requiring urban and urbanizing areas to upgrade the level of protection to a 1 in 200 year flood (0.5% chance). A little better. So there is a lot of discussion of how they will be able to meet the standard. Some cities are unsure how to finance complying with this new standard

    Also, part of SB 5 requires building code updates for residents BEHIND the levees. But this process has stalled a bit due to pushback from the building community. Many people don’t want to pay for elevating houses, or other necessary adaptations.

    This is a very timely video as the draft of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is about to be released by the State of California. The success or failure of the plan has consequences for the whole state, as taxpayers even in Los Angeles will be paying for both implementation of the plan, as well as for a disaster if the plan fails and California has a major flood.

    I agree with the authors on this blog, that you can’t just let rivers flood. As such, there are opportunities for new flood bypasses in the Central Valley (similar to the Yolo Bypass described in the film) which would significantly reduce risk for the entire system. Further, we could reduce risk by not permit NEW development below sea-level.

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