February 23, 2006
Record Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stood with several elected officials on a Sacramento River levee Wednesday afternoon and asked the federal government to help fix it - and 1,600 miles of levees like it - before disaster strikes.
Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, left, walks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, along a levee after an aerial tour of the Delta levee system Wednesday (Credit: CLIFFORD OTO/The Record)
"They are one big storm or one big earthquake away from a disaster," Schwarzenegger said after a two-hour helicopter tour of the flood-prone Delta levee system, which helps deliver water to 23 million Californians.
The governor was referring to a recent state Department of Water Resources report that a moderate earthquake could trigger dozens of levee failures, crippling the state's water supply. He was joined by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and several other lawmakers in a public plea for more federal money to protect Delta-area homes and farms.
Their tour - taken in two Blackhawk helicopters that landed in a Sacramento neighborhood park, drawing curious residents from their homes - included Brannan, Bradford and Twitchell islands. Those sites were damaged during heavy storms over New Year's Eve.
Feinstein described the Delta as "very beautiful" - all the more reason to repair, rebuild and strengthen existing levees, she said.
The Delta's canals, farms, subdivisions and byways are "a wonderful mélange of California," she said.
Schwarzenegger wants to spend $6 billion in bond money on levees and expects federal funds to cover at least half of that amount. But he and Feinstein are asking for $88 million for a dozen specific flood-control projects, and argue the federal government is responsible for helping provide flood protection.
The request includes only $2 million in local money, to be spent on a levee study of Delta islands.
Concern over Delta levees rose after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans last September, reminding many locals of the 1997 Central Valley flood and the 2004 flood of Lower Jones Tract. About 200 Stockton residents turned out for a special public hearing on levees last month.
However, Schwarzenegger and Feinstein say money is needed to protect Sacramento residents first, calling the city the largest in the United States with the greatest risk for flooding.
Also on Wednesday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it is preparing to spend $90 million to strengthen Delta levees, some of which are over 100 years old. The agency said it received 52 funding requests and is ranking them in order of importance.
Contact reporter Warren Lutz at (209) 546-8295 or email@example.com