A holistic approach to flood protection and water quality

December means more than Christmas shopping and holiday traditions–it means the start of the winter rainy season and flood worries for thousands of Californians.
Just last year, the Katrina disaster demonstrated what can happen when flood protection breaks down. It’s not a catastrophe we want to see repeated in California, which depends on a vast network of waterways to deliver irrigation to farmers and drinking water to 22 million of the state’s residents.
That is why my fellow Senate Democrats and I have worked hard over the past two years to pass legislation boosting flood protection, improving water management and strengthening levees.
And, in 2007, we plan to forge ahead on these important issues, taking more steps to enhance flood protection and safeguard California’s economy and residents. There is still plenty to do.
First, we must swiftly and wisely spend money available through Proposition 1E, the $4.1 billion Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act approved by voters last month.
There are hundreds of flood-control projects up and down the state, from the San Diego River to Petaluma, that will benefit. Funding for flood subvention can easily be out the door and put to use before the rain ends next spring.
In addition, because voters also passed Proposition 84–a $5.4 billion bond for water quality and natural-resource preservation–the Legislature has a unique opportunity to invest simultaneously in flood control, water-quality improvements, urban-storm runoff protections and additional water supplies. We can take a comprehensive approach that could be as far-reaching as the original state water project put into place four decades ago.
After all, our flood protection, water quality systems and water supply and storage are all part of the same matrix of dams, rivers, canals and aquifers.
Second, we must spell out the duties of state and local flood agencies, as well as private development interests, in ensuring cost-effective flood protection, sensible land-use planning and scientifically based flood management.
That is done by newly introduced SB 5, by Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden. The legislation also ensures that state taxpayers are protected from huge liability judgments associated with levee breaches and other catastrophic flood events.
Machado, and Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will take Senate Democrats’ lead on these issues.
And finally, we must pass legislation that has been reintroduced to reform the state’s main flood-protection agency, the Reclamation Board, and guarantee that current and future flood decisions are made by independent experts. The bill, SB 17 by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, requires Reclamation Board appointments to be cleared by the Senate, like hundreds of other state appointees.
We have shored up flood protection over the past two years, with the 2006 legislative session proving to be especially productive.
We beefed up protection for urban areas threatened by flooding. We also pushed for more sensible land-use decisions to avoid development in deep flood plains, dam re-operation to make more space in our reservoirs during high water events and set-back levees to provide wider channels for storm surges. We expanded non-structural flood controls, such as the Sutter bypass under Interstate 5 north of Sacramento, and the Yolo Bypass under the causeway west of the city, both of which shunt off excess flood waters into fallow farmland to protect cities from high water.
The Senate helped bring our 1940s-era flood state protection agencies into the 21st century by requiring better state and regional flood planning and science-based decision making.
Also, the Senate worked with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to develop a “one-stop shop” in the state Resources Agency to streamline and expedite levee repairs while protecting critical river wildlife and habitat.
As a result of these actions, nearly 90 “critical erosion sites” and other weakened levees along the greater Sacramento-San Joaquin river system have been repaired.
We can never know for certain what Mother Nature holds in store for us. And for that reason, we must keep challenging ourselves to do better.
But we’ve made great strides in flood
protection over the last year, and more are
on the way.

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