Sacramento Flooding, Part Ten

The series Tempting Fate continues today in the Bee and what today’s story reminds us is how intimately the American River is connected to the vasy network of levees, and communities in the river and delta area.

Here is an excerpt, click on title for full story…

“The guardians of vital levees in California’s flood-prone Central Valley are on the verge of financial crisis, an investigation by The Bee has found, one that puts basic maintenance at risk and virtually rules out upgrades for a system in decline.

“The Bee examined a year’s worth of financial audits for 73 levee districts between Butte City in the north and Visalia in the south. These tiny government agencies work behind the scenes in cities and rural areas, getting a share of property taxes from landowners to maintain thousands of miles of levees.

“While state and federal agencies often help pay for major levee upgrades, local levee districts are the eyes and ears of California’s flood defenses – literally the front line between us and high water.

“The Bee’s analysis found that front line pocked with holes.

“Thirty-three of the districts reviewed, or nearly half, ended their most recent fiscal year in the red, with an average deficit of $133,839.

“One of the healthiest was District 341 on Sherman Island near Antioch, which is partly owned by the state and ended its 2004 budget year with a surplus of $380,325. At the low end was District 1500 near Yuba City, which ended the year in the hole by $502,010.

“The numbers reveal a stark truth: Many levee districts are chipping away at their meager assets to perform the basic maintenance that protects cities and towns from flooding.

Only a third of the districts have enough cash in reserve to cover a year’s operating expenses, according to The Bee’s review.

“To be very honest, we’re not doing well. We don’t have much money to operate,” said James Waller, a board member of Reclamation District 10, which abuts the city of Marysville.
His district has an annual budget of $12,000 to maintain 23 miles of levee. Typical maintenance costs are $5,000 to $15,000 per mile of levee.

“California’s levee districts were formed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by farmers to protect crops from the state’s ever-meandering rivers. Nearly all still are run by farmers and they operate on a shoestring, in many cases unable to draw funds from the populated areas they now protect.

“Few districts manage to get to the larger projects that will make levees stronger, which can cost more than $1 million per mile.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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