State cuts back on water supplies

February 28, 2008 8:39:25 PM PST
The Department of Water Resources says it will have to reduce Delta water pumping to the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California by 75-percent, for at least the next week.

When the snow-pack begins to melt, it will send water rushing to the Sacramento Delta. Experts are working to strengthen levees in need of repair -- and to measure the risk of failure.

At California's Department of Water Resources, some of the most interesting work, these days, might be described as being a bit boring.

"There are two kinds of levees: Those that have not failed, and those that will fail. I mean that is really the bottom line. Anybody that lives behind a levee is at risk," said Mike Inamina from the Department of Water Resources.

That is the cores of Mike Inamina's work. This research, part of a $70 million dollar project to find faulty levees in urban areas before they fail.

Much of Sacramento, for instance, sits below sea level, with nothing but aging, eroding, earthen levees standing between expensive neighborhoods, and flood plains.

Along a stretch of the Sacramento River, drills probed down more than 100 feet, looking at composition.

"We have a lot of samples and some clear layers in between," said scientist Chuck Rambo.

California has a lot at stake with the safety of the levees Let's say one broke, and flooded a neighborhood nearby. California would be liable, which means taxpayers would be also be liable.

"The financial effect would be catastrophic," said Inamana.

Five years ago, a court forced California to pay half a billion dollars for damage from a 1986 Feather River flood near Yuba City.

Based on that precedent, the state has spent 340-million dollars, so far, examining and rebuilding levees in the Central Valley.

"There are certainly many levees that have been identified as being in need of critical repairs," said Inamana.

California worries about another infamous 'pineapple express' -- a warm, March storm that melts the sierra snow pack, overloading the system.

In a time of climate change, with this year's snow-pack greater than normal, that is more likely than it used to be. But the work can only go so fast.

"It took 150 years to get done. It won't happen overnight," said Inamana.

Good news, bad news -- from the lowlands.