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California Delegation Members Call for Levee and Flood Control Funding

Location: Washington, DC

Washington, D.C.-Today, 25 members of the California Congressional Delegation urged support for essential California priorities in a letter to federal appropriators responsible for funding for flood control and levee projects across the country.

"The Delta Levees ensure flood protection and a reliable source of drinking water for over 22 million Californians - from the North to the South. It is imperative that we gain a more thorough understanding of both the short and long term needs of the Delta Levees if we are to ensure the reliability of our most precious resource - water," said Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Alamo).

Reps. Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Doris Matsui, Jim Costa, Dennis Cardoza, Tom Lantos, Linda Sanchez, Nancy Pelosi, Hilda Solis, Mike Thompson, Maxine Waters, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Barbara Lee, Grace Napolitano, Susan Davis, Lynn Woolsey, Henry Waxman, Joe Baca, Anna Eshoo, Howard Berman, Xavier Becerra, Diane Watson, Brad Sherman, and Pete Stark authored a joint letter to their colleagues on the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, highlighting flood control and levee integrity projects critical to prevent flooding and disaster seen recently in the Gulf region.

"A major earthquake near the Delta or a severe break in Delta levees would cause significant flooding at great human and economic cost for the Bay Area and the state. Congress needs to provide this funding before it's too late," said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez).

The joint letter calls on appropriators to recall the catastrophic damage wreaked on California by previous flooding, and focuses on three areas where flood control is essential, including the Sacramento region, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees, and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basins.

"As we have seen from the various natural disasters around the world it is vital that we implement all necessary precautionary measures in the effort to prevent such catastrophic effects," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno).

"Investing in prevention is not a lesson we should have to learn again. As we have clearly seen the price of not doing so is far too high. With Sacramento the most at-risk river city in the nation, I hope Congress will make the decision to prioritize public safety and direct these critical dollars towards our region's flood control efforts," said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento).

"Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call for California and the Central Valley. We must act now to address our vulnerabilities by strengthening the levee system. The threat is real and the consequences of inaction could be dire. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to secure the funding necessary to protect the people of California from this threat," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced).

Full text of the letter is below.

Honorable David Hobson, Chairman
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Honorable Peter Visclosky, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Dear Chairman Hobson and Congressman Visclosky:

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, all Americans are uniting to help ease the suffering and plan for recovery. We pledge our support to this effort.

At the same time, it is clearly incumbent on federal officials to urgently look at how we can improve emergency preparedness and reduce the potential for catastrophic loss in the event of future flooding damage in other American communities. There is no doubt that many of these high-risk communities reside within California; in fact, flood related events account for 90 percent of all natural disasters in our state. That is why as Californians we are requesting - in the most urgent terms - your support for federal funds for key projects to address areas in California with the greatest potential threat of catastrophic flooding. In addition to the projects outlined below, we support the flood control priorities articulated in the 9/22/05 letter by the bipartisan Sacramento regional delegation.

1. Sacramento region flood control

The number of people and the value of property at risk in our aging levee system in the northern part of California's Central Valley are staggering. A prime example of this persistent threat is in the Sacramento region. In comparison to major river cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and New Orleans which have significantly greater flood protection, the levee and dam system protecting Sacramento is rated by the Army Corps of Engineers as only having protection against the type of flood that can be expected in less than 100-years, and in some portions of the region it is even less than that. This puts the risk of flooding in Sacramento among the highest of major urban areas in the country and most at-risk river city in the nation.

While Sacramento may not face the threat of hurricanes like those recently experienced in New Orleans, the region faces a very real threat of flooding caused by increasingly common wet weather patters such as the "Pineapple Express." This is a warm front that blows in from Hawaii with heavy rainfall that soaks the ground and melts the snow in the Sierra Mountain. Furthermore, the region is facing an indisputable shift in long-term weather patters which renders projects built just a few decades ago less than one-half as effective now on holding back floodwaters. The city's location, at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, combined with these climatological factors can overwhelm the river banks exposing the Sacramento community to unacceptable risk.

The Sacramento floodplain contains 165,000 homes, more than 450,000 residents, businesses providing more than 250,000 jobs, and 1300 government facilities--including nothing less than the State Capital itself. It is the hub of a six-county regional economy that provides almost one million jobs for 2.2 million people. A major flood along the American River would cripple this economy, putting at risk property worth close to $35 billion. The devastation of the floods of 1986 and 1997 are reminders of the threat Sacramento faces, but also tell a story that the flood risk is only rising, as well as the ferocity of the storms.

In FY06, the Sacramento region needs $70.55 million among five key Army Corps of Engineer projects to help put the region on track for its short term goal of reaching 100-year protection and to keep other projects progressing in pursuit of the long-term goal of 200-year protection. This level of protection is essential, and, with thousands of lives and the seat of government of our nation's largest state at risk, the need for this critically important investment is clear.

2. Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees

The extensive network of levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta also faces a significant threat. A major earthquake near the Sacramento Delta could certainly cause failure in as many as 20 levees. The collapse of Delta levees would disrupt, and trigger the contamination of, the drinking water source for 22 million Californians. Disruption of this intricate water delivery system would also have tremendous ramifications on the availability of irrigation water for more than seven million acres of our state's highly productive agricultural lands.

Levee maintenance and upgrading in the Delta is expected to cost $2 billion over the next decade. Funding has lagged for the Delta levee projects, but it is an investment that cannot be shortchanged. The CalFed Bay-Delta Program legislation signed into law last year authorized $90 million for levee improvements in the Delta, including the reconstruction of Delta levees; additional stability enhancement for levees of particular importance; and the development of both best management practices and an Emergency Management and Response Plan. In light of the experience of the Gulf Coast, we urge that the CalFed plan and its funding needs be among the top priorities for the 109th Congress, and Congresses to come until its projects are completed.

In order to assess short term needs, the CalFed legislation also required the Corps of Engineers to submit to Congress a report outlining levee stability reconstruction projects and priorities in the Delta. The Delta levee stability report is overdue and must be completed with all due haste as it will provide the information needed to immediately address the weaknesses in the Delta levee system. We request that at least an additional $500,000 be made available in FY06 to complete the required Corps report.

While the required study will provide valuable information about the Delta levee system, for long-term regional planning we also support the following efforts: developing models for seismic stability of levees, creating an economic baseline for the Delta, geotechnical investigation and analysis, public outreach, stakeholder coordination, and environmental analysis of potential effects of levee breaches and repairs. We understand the Senate version of the FY06 Energy and Water Appropriations bill provides $900,000 for these efforts. However, we request instead that the Committee meet the Corps' full FY06 capacity of $3 million for the modeling, baseline, environmental analysis and the other endeavors. It is imperative that full funding be made available this fiscal year so as much of this effort can get underway as soon as possible.

3. Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basins

Additionally, numerous areas throughout the Central Valley were devastated by the catastrophic flooding in January 1997. This flooding caused record flows on many rivers and became one of the most costly flood disasters in California's history, with damages at $500 million. The Corps of Engineers determined that flood damage improvements for the region would cost $1.5-$3 billion. Reports have since shown that the system cannot safely convey the flows that it was formerly considered capable of accommodating, and that the levee system has and will continue to deteriorate, increasing the flood risk. We need Congressional assistance to make funding for improvements in these river basins a priority.

We appreciate that you understand these requests are not made for doomsday scenarios but for flooding threats that are real. We are appealing to you on an urgent basis to support the necessary funding for these projects in the FY06 Energy and Water Appropriations measures, and full Corps capability funding of these projects in FY07 and subsequent years.

We look forward to working with both of you to address these crucial disaster prevention measures.


Reps. Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Doris Matsui, Jim Costa, Dennis Cardoza, Tom Lantos, Linda Sanchez, Nancy Pelosi, Hilda Solis, Mike Thompson, Maxine Waters, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Barbara Lee, Grace Napolitano, Susan Davis, Lynn Woolsey, Henry Waxman, Joe Baca, Anna Eshoo, Howard Berman, Xavier Becerra, Diane Watson, Brad Sherman, and Pete Stark

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