Report Warns State Is at “Catastrophic Risk for Devastating Floods”

Friday, April 05, 2013
El Nino storms flood the Russian River in California in March, 1998 (photo: Dave Gatley, FEMA)

Now that it’s been a few days since Californians were inundated with stories about a looming drought from insufficient Sierra Nevada snowpack, it’s time to shift gears and worry about flooding.

A new study, “California’s Flood Future,” from the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) says 7.2 million Californians live in floodplains that are at “catastrophic risk for devastating floods.” Structures worth $575 billion are exposed to flooding along with critical infrastructure and $7 billion in crops, making a major flood far more threatening than superstorm Sandy back East that caused $60 billion in damage.   

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are all at risk, the report said, noting that every county in California was declared a federal disaster area at least once in the past 20 years because of flooding.

California has poured a lot of money over the years into flood control. Annual project expenditures for flood control between 2000 and 2010 ranged from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. But funding, which relies heavily on developer fees, property taxes and general agency funds, began to sink after the U.S. economy tanked in 2008. 

The report characterized ongoing efforts as fragmented, uncoordinated and haphazard. Overlap and conflict between some 1,300+ local, state and federal agencies complicate planning, funding, permitting, construction and operation of flood management infrastructure.    

The authors offered seven familiar recommendations for the future: better assess risks; better inform the public; promote disaster preparedness; encourage better land-use planning; utilize regional and statewide perspectives; increase agency collaboration; and find more money.

A lot more money.

The report “conservatively estimated” that $100 billion would be needed “to reduce risk statewide.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Flood Risk High, Coordination Low (by Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle)

Millions of People and Billions of Property at Risk for Flooding in California (California Department of Water Resources) (pdf)

California’s Flood Future: Recommendations for Managing the State’s Flood Risk (California Department of Water Resources) (pdf)

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