The president of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and the director of the state Department of Water Resources make important points when they write that flood planning requires "investments to achieve multiple benefits" ("Flood planning needs cooperative approach"; Viewpoints, Oct. 28). But their list omits an important benefit: recreation and its attendant public access to our levees.
Why recreation? First, the Legislature mandates that these agencies consider recreational use when planning flood projects if "those features are consistent with other uses of the project." Multi-purpose levee trails are not just consistent with but complementary to flood protection. A paved trail is a stable, all-weather road for vehicles and workers maintaining levees and fighting floods.
Trails also serve a goal of the recently enacted Central Valley Flood Protection Plan: cost sharing. Local agencies build the trails, improving access and safety without requiring DWR to divert funds from other needs.
DWR acknowledged recently in its newly enacted Urban Levee Design Criteria that neighborhood watch programs can improve safety on levees by reporting problems. The public can't do this if we don't have access.
Regrettably, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board known as the Reclamation Board at the time made the wrong decisions. In the late 1960s, the Reclamation Board enacted a permit process to control encroachments.
In the Pocket and Little Pocket in the '60s and '70s, the board granted permits over DWR's objections that fences and gates increased costs for maintenance and, worse yet, exacerbated flooding risks. DWR had recorded cases where fences caught debris, turned rushing water against the levee and caused serious erosion.
At a minimum, DWR pleaded, prohibit fences below the flood plane a point only 3 feet or so from the levee top. The board ignored even these protests.
Encroachment permits prohibit fences from crossing "public trust" land a strip of land between the low and high water marks of the river "in its last natural condition." The state owns this land in trust for us to use our river for recreation and other purposes.
The State Lands Commission oversees these lands, yet all state agencies must enforce the law. The Reclamation Board seemingly turned a blind eye to fences that take this public land for private use. Even now, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board does nothing to scale back fences so they open state lands to the public entitled to use them.
What's more, DWR and the board tolerate unpermitted fence extensions, concertina razor wire stretched below a fence to discourage passage, and makeshift spikes above fences that endanger children drawn to this attractive nuisance.
As late as 2008, the newly renamed Central Valley Flood Protection Board directed its staff to work with a homeowner to allow two more fences in the Pocket area. The board finally denied the application last year when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would tolerate no new fences.
Now with a level of privacy and security they did not pay for, a relative handful of homeowners fight any recreational use of "their" levees. The city of Sacramento even tolerates a locked gate to the 11-acre Chicory Bend Park to protect the adjacent homeowners who have near-exclusive use of this park.
In fairness, these are not the actions of the current board, most of whom were appointed recently. But this board can alter this unfortunate course.
The board is considering changes to its regulations, including prohibitions on new fences across levees. Yet, the amendments do not address existing fences not even to scale them back to the flood plane as DWR long ago requested for flood safety.
The amendments do not address a curious regulation that allows "bicycle trails" but directs that they be kept off levees "where feasible." The Delta Protection Commission, under a legislative directive to plan the Great California Delta Trail from Sacramento to the Bay Area, has asked the board to provide for bike trails on levees. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board has not acted.
With encroachment risks in the news, this board has a unique opportunity to stop protecting private interests at the expense of public rights and safety. We who live in the Pocket hope this board will act to protect our interests and stop a few homeowners from keeping their interests above the 42,000 people who are put at risk by demands of a few homeowners.