CA Delta boating advisory

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Tom

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The combination of high tides and incoming severe storms have caused the CA Department Of Boating and Waterways to issue an advisory for the entire California Delta effective Friday 12/30/05 through Sunday 1/1/06. You can read more about it at the CA DBW web site.

Note that, although this is currently only an advisory, DBW could make this mandatory any time they feel the levees might be breached. This would be only the third time I've seen a mandatory order invoked in the last 20+ years. The last time was too late - when a section of levee gave way and Jones Tract was flooded; It took them 9 months to pump the water out.
 

Tom

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Hope yours are too. Maybe I should drop bow anchors  ;D
 

Bob Buchanan

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Tom said:
The combination of high tides and incoming severe storms have caused the CA Department Of Boating and Waterways to issue an advisory for the entire California Delta effective Friday 12/30/05 through Sunday 1/1/06. You can read more about it at the CA DBW web site.

Note that, although this is currently only an advisory, DBW could make this mandatory any time they feel the levees might be breached. This would be only the third time I've seen a mandatory order invoked in the last 20+ years. The last time was too late - when a section of levee gave way and Jones Tract was flooded; It took them 9 months to pump the water out.

Yep -- Sacramento is a national flood disaster waiting to happen. And it won't take a Katrina to cause the city to go under water. It won't take a "perfect storm" to make it happen but rather a perfect combo of other weather happenings. Sacramento has long been rated if not number one over NO, it has never been ranked lower than number 2. It is the ideal scenario for a disaster of the recent NO magnitude.

Years ago, Sacto went under water almost every year -- and was as dumb a place to build a major city as was NO. The good part about the location was also the bad part -- in that it was at the convergence of the Sacto and American Rivers. However, both are fed by the runoff from the Sierra and other mountains surrounding the Sacto Valley. So when the runoff and winter rains hit, both rivers overflow as they have for thousands of years.

To fix the problem (similar to NO) they built levees to protect Sacto -- and the Federal Government (Corps of Engineers) built Folsom Dam. The later had the primary purpose of Flood Control -- and later became the tool to push back the salinity intrusion from the SF bay up into the Delta. Recreational boating, fishing, etc. had nothing to do with purpose of the dam. They are just side benefits of such a project.

Anyway, the dam is not high or strong enough, the levees were not built high or strong enough, and the environmentalists have stopped the building of the Auburn dam on the American River for the past 45-50 years. So we now have a major NO kinda thing that could happen most any winter. And this one is shaping up nicely.

The weather pattern in NCal has been like clockwork for thousands of years. It never rains in the summer but can rain heavily in the winter. The rings in redwoods indicate that wet years have always happened in 6 year cycles. The global warming crowd say it will now happen more often. Some of the storms will come down from Alaska and are not as worrisome -- however, the pineapple express storms from the southwest can lead to the "perfect weather" scenario. Everything is beginning to fall into place. The next event that could complete the scenario is if it turns really warm in the Sierras. I remember the last time it happened -- and Wow!! -- it was white knuckle time.

The warmth would cause the snow pack to melt (last time most all of it came running down the mountain) -- and that could overflow Folsom (or cause heavy, heavy, releases) and play havoc on the levee system. Probably at least 2/3rds of Sacto is below the Sacramento and American high water marks. At the same time, Shasta dam will be releasing heavily into the Sacramento, as will the Orville dam on the Feather river coming out of the mountains, also into the Sacramento.

Not to be posting a doom and gloom post -- but, Sacramento is now rated No. 1 in potential for a catastrophic flood disaster. And that's a fact.  :(  If all this happens -- the Delta will really get hit hard. Even if it doesn't happen, this warning by the DBW during the current storm pattern seems very wise.
 

caltex

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Interesting comments Bob, I have spent 30 years roaming around the Delta, but I had no idea that so much of Sacramento was in the flood zone. The last time there was a big problem (that I recall) was in  the early 80s when they wrapped the levies with plastic and shut off all boat traffic. Friends in Pacificia watched the hill slide down and destroy the house next door.
 

Tom

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It's kinda scary to read that message Bob, but I know you have lots of relevant experience in water projects in California.

My understanding is that they're currently letting water out of the dams in anticipation of high spring snow runoff, so we'll continue to see a rise in water levels. FWIW they're forecasting that the Sierras will see an additional 80-100" of snow this coming week.
 

Bob Buchanan

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caltex said:
Interesting comments Bob, I have spent 30 years roaming around the Delta, but I had no idea that so much of Sacramento was in the flood zone. The last time there was a big problem (that I recall) was in? the early 80s when they wrapped the levies with plastic and shut off all boat traffic. Friends in Pacificia watched the hill slide down and destroy the house next door.

The situation I describe happened in 1986 and again in 1997 (if I recall). More and more Sacto flood plain land is being developed even tho this threat exists. For many years, e.g., the Natomas area North of Sacto was wisely not developed, whereas now, it's part of the big boom in housing. I read recently that only 15% of the homes in CA that are in a flood plain have flood insurance (other than a boat in their driveway? :)). Those in Yolo that got hit in 97 sued the state for having a faulty levee -- and won billions in damage. And now, with the cost of housing so high in the Bay area, more and more folk are moving and settling in the valley -- so the planning departments are having a difficult time refusing building permits.

Yes, I was visiting a friend in Pacifica recently -- and each year, the ocean inches inland more and more. The big RV park there has fewer and fewer spaces available as they drop off into the ocean.? :(
 

Bob Buchanan

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Tom said:
It's kinda scary to read that message Bob, but I know you have lots of relevant experience in water projects in California.

My understanding is that they're currently letting water out of the dams in anticipation of high spring snow runoff, so we'll continue to see a rise in water levels. FWIW they're forecasting that the Sierras will see an additional 80-100" of snow this coming week.

Yes, Tom -- it's scary, and for the most part, ignored. I understand that the probability of a disaster I describe was higher in Sacto than it was in NO, so luck has been with us here. It could happen this winter, it could not happen for another 50 years. Some crap shooters win on bad bets, others lose on good bets. :)

The releases each year are a function of many things -- one being snow pack. The idea is that the Dams are lowered (partly naturally due to summer demand) as a safety measure to handle the snow pack. Ideally, the thaw will be gradual. However, occasionally the thaw is almost instantaneous as it was in '86 and '97 due to warm rains. I recall in '86, we had very high levels of snow in Nov and Dec -- then just after Christmas, the storms were coming from the southwest, were very high level, and very warm. The entire snow pack melted in something like 3 days. The water was lapping at the causeway West of Sacto and very scary indeed.

Now they want to raise Folsom dam by 7 feet to handle that additional water -- and, of course, mend the levee system. Arnold is having a tough time getting it done from what I read. As an engineer with BurRec back in the sixties -- we could not believe that the Auburn dam project was being stymied as it still is today. The cost to build that dam back then would have been a fraction of the cost to raise Folsom by 7 feet today. Totally ludicrous.

Seems I read recently that one of Clinton's cabinet heads who was a devout environmentalist recently made a speech suggesting that the only viable solution to this problem is to build Auburn dam now. He finally sees the light.  :) That dam would have solved this entire problem by giving the extra storage capacity to handle the additional run off from a rapid snow pack melt -- PLUS would include the peripheral canal that would add needed irrigation and carry water east of the San Joaquin to LA and by pass the Delta.

In the meantime, it remains a crap shoot . . .
 

Tom

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Coinicdentally, a visitor to our home yesterday was complaining about the ignored warnings regarding the levees. I recall the high runoff and massive water releases into the Sacramento circa 1986. Rio Vista and other riverside towns were flooded. IIRC the next year or two they released too much water too early and we were facing a drought because of much less snowpack. (I don't recall the details).
 

Tom

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Bob Buchanan said:
I read recently that only 15% of the homes in CA that are in a flood plain have flood insurance (other than a boat in their driveway

Or a plane in their back yard ;D
 

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Tom

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Now the DBW has ordered a ban on recreational boating on the Delta (I think they should have done that instead of issuing the prior advisory). Here's the link if anyone was planning on going boating this weekend.
 

Chet18013

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Bob Buchanan said:
The situation I describe happened in 1986 and again in 1997 (if I recall). More and more Sacto flood plain land is being developed even tho this threat exists. For many years, e.g., the Natomas area North of Sacto was wisely not developed, whereas now, it's part of the big boom in housing. I read recently that only 15% of the homes in CA that are in a flood plain have flood insurance (other than a boat in their driveway  :)). Those in Yolo that got hit in 97 sued the state for having a faulty levee -- and won billions in damage. And now, with the cost of housing so high in the Bay area, more and more folk are moving and settling in the valley -- so the planning departments are having a difficult time refusing building permits.

Yes, I was visiting a friend in Pacifica recently -- and each year, the ocean inches inland more and more. The big RV park there has fewer and fewer spaces available as they drop off into the ocean.  :(

It also happened in in the mid 1950's. I used to ski at Squaw Valley, driving up from the Bay Area during that peroid. More than once we had to make major detours around Sacramento because of the high waters. The 50's floods were one of the main reasons the Marysville Dam was built.

Chet18013
 

FX

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GEEZ!  I could not believe the news footage I saw yesterday of the Rio Vista area!  If I didn't know better I would have sworn that was the ocean on a bad day. 
As far as the comments from Bob about Cities having a hard time saying 'no' to building new houses-
I think that is a problem everywhere.  Everyone is complaining about the growth, but it just keeps on getting worse and worse.  Depending on this city, permits to build a new house cost between $20,000 & $30,000.  I guess it would be kind of hard to say no to Joe Blow Developer who wants to build a 2,000 house sub division in your city.  WOW, I just did the numbers in my head and had to double check on the calculator.  Going with the lower figure of 20,000 per house, at 2,000 houses, that's $40 million bucks.There maye be more to it than what I know here, but I can see why the houses keep coming!
 

Tom

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FX said:
I could not believe the news footage I saw yesterday of the Rio Vista area! If I didn't know better I would have sworn that was the ocean on a bad day.

I had the same reaction when I saw the footage of the Sacramento river at Rio Vista last night. For sure, I haven't seen the water level that high. There was also a lot of garbage (trees and stuff) floating downstream at a high rate of knots.
 

FX

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My little pontoon would have never stood a chance in that water :'(
 

Bob Buchanan

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FX said:
GEEZ!? I could not believe the news footage I saw yesterday of the Rio Vista area!? If I didn't know better I would have sworn that was the ocean on a bad day.?
As far as the comments from Bob about Cities having a hard time saying 'no' to building new houses-
I think that is a problem everywhere.? Everyone is complaining about the growth, but it just keeps on getting worse and worse.? Depending on this city, permits to build a new house cost between $20,000 & $30,000.? I guess it would be kind of hard to say no to Joe Blow Developer who wants to build a 2,000 house sub division in your city.? WOW, I just did the numbers in my head and had to double check on the calculator.? Going with the lower figure of 20,000 per house, at 2,000 houses, that's $40 million bucks.There maye be more to it than what I know here, but I can see why the houses keep coming!

Fortunately, the last part of the disaster scenario has not happened. If the rains had been warm enough to melt the snowpack, things could be much worse. The snowpack has not been that great because of "somewhat warmer" rain and snow so far into the season - so (1) it was never that deep, and (2) the rains were not warm enough to melt the pack. Sacto has dodged another bullet.  :)

Not sure about the numbers myself, but if you compare that $40 million to what would have to be paid out in claims against the State -- it wouldn't compare too favorably. I understand that the Yolo residents received billions after the '97 levee break.
 

FX

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During the last election, Californians voted down Arnold's prop on State spending.  Now that the majority of Californians believe it is OK to spend more than we bring in (?????????), I don't understand why we just don't go on a big spending spree.  Heck, let's spend 100 million to repair the levee's.  I personally think that just the cities/counties which would be effected by a break should foot the bill.  Yeah, yeah, I know we would all be effected by the drinking water or lack of.  I wonder just how many of the elected officials, from Councilmembers to Senators, in those areas have done anything proactively to try to get funding for repairs.  Same goes with New Orleans.  I don't recall the Mayor, Governor or ANY elected official making a stink over their deteriorated levee system, until AFTER the disaster...and then they all blamed Bush. 
If I had to place a bet on this, I would say nothing will be done about our levee's until after a disaster
 

Karl

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FX:

Re: New Orleans.

There has been a federal study underway since 1999, way before the disaster, about the levee system in and around N.O.  Bottom line is that it would take 5-6 more years to finalize the plan for an upgrade to a cat. 4-5 levee system, and another 20+ years to implement it. You're talking about hundreds of miles of major reconstruction.  The N.O. project and CA projects are not something that will be done overnight. Also consider the continued building along the San Andreas fault. Sure, it's prime real estate now, but becomes worthless if it ends up rubble at the bottom of some crevice or part of the ocean. As long as people and developers ignore the scientists, you'll continue to have these types of disasters. I'm not a doomsayer, but there's a point where common sense must come into play.
 

FX

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Karl - I agree 100% but when is anyone going to do something about it?  The Modesto Bee and Stockton Record have both recently printed several front page articles on what devastation would be caused if a major earthquake hit the area.  I am not in a position to make things happen so I guess I'll sit back and wait it out.
 
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