Tuesday, May 09, 2006

California finally convinced to fix levees

By Elaine Shein

After heavy rains in the last few months, several levee breaks, a proclamation by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that the state’s levee system is in a stage of emergency, and the threat of failure at 24 critical erosion sites in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River flood control system, finally the California government has been stirred enough to move ahead.

Bids are finally being accepted from contractors to fix some of the levees, thanks to the state legislature finally approving $37.3 billion in infrastructure bonds, with $4.1 billion targeted for the levee repairs.

The legislature deserves harsh criticism for delaying these bonds so long: the politicians should hope no major disasters happen before the levees receive the urgent repairs they need. Homes and farmland have already suffered from some of the levee breaks.

Perhaps it was fitting that this was approved just over a month after the West Coast media reminded people that it has been a century since the horrific earthquake and fire devastated San Francisco on April 18, 1906. This triggered a lot of analysis on what could have been done to prevent that tragedy that became one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.

The scenes from New Orleans last year should also have been sober reminders that more needs to be done to prevent human-made catastrophes that began with natural disasters.

Those two cases showed more could have been done prior to those tragedies. At a time when this is the most technologically advanced of any generation, when the science exists to predict which parts of the country are most prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides or other natural disasters, America should do all it can to prepare for those challenging times. The focus should be to save lives, not endanger them, because of politics and money.

With America’s growing population, vulnerable areas — such as California — cannot be depopulated or growth trends slowed. Besides the money for levees and infrastructure, awareness of the dangers and knowledge to deal with the challenges must be encouraged to grow. Action is needed. The approval of the bonds was just a start.

Dealing with the serious challenges doesn’t mean one can’t still retain a sense of humor, however.

Last month, in the middle of all the heavy rains and flooding, KGO television in California profiled a northern town that is proud to say it is one of the rainiest places in the state — and is also up for sale.

In March alone, 20 inches fell on Cazadero, in the heart of redwood forests in Sonoma County, which averages 85 inches of rain each year and has had up to almost 140 inches according to residents.

Only Gasquet in Del Norte County is rainier.

According to KGO, in Cazadero, Dale Buhan and his wife Heidi are selling most of the town that they own, which includes: their home: the 100-year-old general store, post office and pool hall. Price tag: $2 million.

Quoted in the TV piece, Dale Buhan declared: “Eighty-five inches is a walk in the park. Eighty-five inches seems like it doesn’t rain at all.”



Bids sought for levee repairs

Infrastructure bond approved in Sacramento

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