This article continues the Bee’s coverage on flooding with a focus on the finances around the levees, mostly in the Delta, which are closely connected to the Parkway and need to be seen as part of the ecosystem.
Here is an excerpt.
“If levee districts are struggling now to stay in operation, those in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta soon will struggle more.
“On July 1, the state’s Delta Levee Maintenance Program will lose two-thirds of its funding.
“Known commonly as the subventions program, it provides state matching funds for maintenance and improvement projects done by Delta districts. After July 1, the program will receive a maximum of $2 million annually in state funding, compared with $6 million previously.
“The outcome is going to be that (districts) are going to stop maintaining their levees,” said John Winther, president of four Delta reclamation districts.
“The Delta’s 1,100-mile maze of levees is critical to protecting water quality for the 23 million Californians who use its water in their homes and businesses. Delta levees also protect two state highways, a key railroad line, several small towns and 700,000 acres of farmland – all in a marshy region between Sacramento and Tracy.
“All levees need constant maintenance, and that is especially true in the Delta, where many sit on spongy peat soil. Peat, an organic material composed of decayed plant matter, slowly compresses over time under the weight of levees.
“Without improvements, Delta levees gradually get lower in relation to sea level, allowing water to flow over them and cause levee failures.
“If we hadn’t had that (subventions) program, we would have overtopped at least half the levees in the Delta either in ’95, ’97 or ’98,” said Gilbert Cosio, a partner with MBK Engineers in Sacramento, a consultant to many levee districts.
“Farming on Delta islands adds to the problem, because cultivation exposes peat soil to the air, causing it to decompose faster. Delta islands lose up to an inch of soil depth annually, and today some island interiors are more than 20 feet below sea level, leaving less mass to push back against flood waters.
“California leaders long ago recognized these problems and the broad state interests in preserving the Delta – for water supply, wildlife habitat, transportation and recreation. The Delta Levee Maintenance Program was created by legislation in 1981 to provide a way for the state to share in the Delta’s upkeep.”