Sacramento's downtown skyline is shown in a composite photo taken last month. Sacramento has the second-highest flood risk of any major U.S. urban area. If a levee breaks, some residents could have as little as 20 minutes to flee before rising waters prevent driving.

Another View: Floodplain dwellers should pay full cost for levees

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 - 8:51 am

Matt Weiser's recent news article on funding for the Natomas levees ("Levee fixes grind to a halt," Feb. 16) has prompted a fusillade of letters questioning the fairness of my request that federal funding be repaid by the beneficiaries of the flood protection and the practicality of including discussion of the long-delayed Auburn dam as part of a comprehensive regional solution.

Many of my constituents live in high fire-danger areas, for which they pay much higher fire insurance premiums, a much higher percentage of their property taxes for local fire infrastructure, and a unique and onerous parcel tax imposed to fight fires on surrounding public lands.

In addition, they are forced to subsidize the flood insurance of those who freely choose to live in floodplains, most recently being charged an additional average of $90 per household by federal legislation passed in December.

No one doubts or questions the importance of completing the levees expeditiously, but it is hardly unreasonable to ask that federal funds advanced for this purpose ultimately be repaid by its beneficiaries.

Although new to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, this is common practice on other federal flood control projects, including Bureau of Reclamation dams.

Nor is it unreasonable to include discussion of the Auburn dam as an important part of a regional solution. The levees and other projects promise 200-year flood protection for Sacramento; but the Auburn dam could provide 400-year protection, on top of additional benefits of water storage, clean hydroelectricity, and a major new recreational resource. These benefits would boost the economy of the entire region, offset the costs for flood control from the sale of water, electricity and concessionary rights while fully repaying taxpayers for the loan of federal funds.

Weiser dismisses the project because it "has not been comprehensively studied by any government agency in decades." Actually, it has been more carefully studied than any dam in the nation, including engineering to withstand an earthquake 80 times stronger than the Oroville quake of 1975.

Ideology, not engineering, is the obstacle to the dam, and it ought to be reconsidered. After all, there will come a day when 200-year flood protection is not enough for Sacramento, and ignoring the 400-year protection of the Auburn dam would be a tragedy.

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