Sacramentans love their pools. And with temperatures topping 100 in the summer (and the 90s in late September), who would begrudge anybody for wanting one in their backyard?
The problem, however, comes when property owners build pools, fences, steps and other structures on or at the base of levees, a decades-old problem in the Central Valley. As The Bee's Matt Weiser noted Sunday, these types of "encroachments" have prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to warn Sacramento it will withhold federal flood assistance if the problem isn't corrected. Even more worrisome, the worst kind of encroachments could compromise a levee during a major flood, turning Sacramento into a giant swimming pool.
The problem can be seen easily from Google satellite images of the Pocket and Little Pocket neighborhoods. Numerous pools sit right at the base of the Sacramento River levee, some dug 10 feet deep.
"That's a pretty serious example of an encroachment that has multiple problems," Rick Poeppelman, the chief of engineering for the Corps' Sacramento district, told Weiser. "It not only creates a problem for access, you're also removing material from the land side of the levee, so it becomes a stability problem and a seepage problem."
There's little doubt that some of these encroachments will have to be removed. The question is whether federal, state and local agencies can manage it in a way that provides the most public safety benefits at the least disruption to property owners and the lowest cost to taxpayers.
Some of these pools and other encroachments date back several decades. Past leaders at both the city and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board should have prevented their construction. That said, both the city and the CVFPB have taken steps to prevent repeats. Since 2006, the city's general plan has required property owners to set back new buildings 50 feet from levees. Any homeowner wanting to build a pool near a levee must get approval from the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, which has become tougher in handing out permits.
For the Pocket, a moment of truth could come in June, when the Corps is expected to release a general re-evaluation report with specific recommendations on upgrading levees in the Pocket and throughout Sacramento. Until then, the Central Valley board and the city should work with property owners on removing the most serious of encroachments, aware that further work may be necessary depending on the Corps' findings.