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Today: The debate ain’t over till the fat levee sings.
Fat levees are double-wide levees. Levees wide enough for a four-lane road on top. Massive, earthquake-and-beaver resistant earthen levees proposed for Delta waterways.
The Fat Levee Theory deserves more attention. Because, unlike what the state wants to do with a peripheral canal, it is fair to Stockton and to Delta counties.
And it is economically sensible.
Fat levees entered the debate after the Delta Protection Commission asked a think tank, the Business Forecasting Center at University of the Pacific, to study the state’s water problem.
The state’s dual goal is to secure California’s main water supply and to restore the Delta.
Probably it will secure the water by building a Delta-draining, and astronomically expensive, peripheral canal or tunnel.
Delta water supposedly needs securing because levees are deteriorating geezers. So rickety that a big earthquake could topple 10 to 30, ruining the whole system.
That would cut water to south Valley farms and SoCal cities.
Of course, there’s no recorded instance of an earthquake-caused levee collapse. Even the Great Quake of 1906 didn’t cause a breach.
The state famously tested Delta soil liquefaction with an earthquake-simulating contraption. The levees stood firm.
Nor are levees in decline. That’s a canard. Reclamation districts have spent $300 million to $400 million strengthening them over the past 20 years. The rate of levee breaks has slowed far below the historical norm.
In fact, looking back, it now appears the 2004 Jones Tract levee break, the flood that got lawmakers’ attention, was an anomaly amid a clear trend of improvement.
The state doesn’t want to hear it. The canal’s real impetus is political. Powerful water users want the water; they want the canal; so there’s going to be a flippin’ earthquake, OK?
The Forecasting Center inventoried everything out in the Delta that could be harmed by a systemwide Delta levee collapse.
» The (at least partial) water supply for two-thirds of the state.
» 20 percent of the state’s natural gas-powered plants, making 10 percent of the state’s energy in the state’s largest natural gas production fields.
» The state’s largest natural gas storage facility (under McDonald Island).
» Interregional power transmission lines that carry 10 percent of the state’s summer electric load.
» Highways 4, 12, 160.
» Farms producing $700 million to $800 million in crops annually.
» Recreation generating $250 million a year.
» Local water supplies for Stockton, Antioch and Contra Costa.
» The Port of Stockton and its shipping channel.
» Railroad tracks, fuel pipelines and miscellaneous infrastructure.
» Vast habitat.
When the cost of losing these things is totalled up – the center used the state’s own figures – loss of state water supply amounts to only 20 percent of the overall loss.
Yet the state aims to spend a staggering $13 billion, probably more, to build a canal that protects only the water.
“The point is that is fiscally insane,” said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center.
It’s more insane if, so certain of a quake, the state shells out to create different protections for each asset.
Like spending billions more to elevate highways. And billions more to protect gas fields. And billions for this, and for that. …
Instead, the state could spend $1 billion to $4 billion on fat levees, bolster the entire Delta and protect all its assets, Michael argues.
Of course, fat levees don’t solve the Delta’s environmental problems. They will require new legislation.
And, “The fat levee standard is not a no-fail levee,” Michael acknowledges. “But many engineers have said it would be resilient and resistant to earthquake failures. It would certainly make the system resistant to this catastrophic failure scenario where 20 or 30 islands would go into failure.”
That’s a great argument, if logic were driving the debate. Because special interest politics is, the in-Delta impacts of the doomsday quake don’t matter.
Delta residents don’t matter.
“What people don’t talk about – it protects lives,” Michael said of the fat levee solution. “These floods will kill people.”
A solution beneficial to the few and indifferent to the many is to be expected from special interests. But not from a progressive state.
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or email@example.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog.
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