NorCal waterways named most at-risk

April 7, 2009 8:39:47 PM PDT
Across the Yolo Bypass, the city of Sacramento is a city with a looming liability.

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"Sacramento is at risk in a situation similar to New Orleans," Joseph Grindstaff of the California Department of Water Resources said.

That assessment comes from the man charged with protecting it. Grindstaff directs water policy for California. Tuesday, he heard dire predictions of what he already knows, how an earthquake could cripple the state's levee system.

"All of it is in peril; this is a disaster waiting to happen, essentially." Steve Rothert of the American Rivers environmental group said.

Every year American Rivers name America's most endangered waterways. Tuesday, they put two on the list: the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. 1.5 million people live behind their levees and it is just one-third of the perceived problems in a so-called perfect storm of waterway woes.

"The system is not working for fish, it is not working for the water supply and the flood management system is something we have to commit to solving," Grindstaf said.

If the levees were to break in a large earthquake, it is possible that brackish water could mix with fresh, and ruin most of California's supply for drinking and agriculture.

Experts look the area in the Yolo Bypass as a possible solution. Before these levees were built, people called this part of California the Inland Sea. Every spring it would fill with runoff for thousands of square miles. By moving the levees back and allowing specific areas to flood, wildlife would return, and homes in other low lying areas would be spared.

But such an effort would cost uncounted billions of dollars.

"It will cost a lot of money, but not as much money as it will cost to fix everything when it floods," Rothert said.

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