Editorials

Floods don’t know party labels, as Trump must come to understand

Pedestrians are pelted with rain and wind as they make their way downtown Sunday in Sacramento. The region will continue to need federal help to protect itself from floods.
Pedestrians are pelted with rain and wind as they make their way downtown Sunday in Sacramento. The region will continue to need federal help to protect itself from floods. rbyer@sacbee.com

Despite the weekend deluge, the great flood of 2017 hasn’t happened, at least not yet.

As The Sacramento Bee’s team of reporters have written, the risks aren’t over from the atmospheric-river-fueled storm that weather forecasters had predicted could be the largest to strike California in more than a decade. But as of Monday, it had been 15 years since Sacramento received so much rain so fast, and river flows have been the highest in years.

That disaster has not yet befallen our river city is a testament to the diligence of this city’s elected leaders, the efforts of engineers and workers who have spent years shoring up levees that protect the Sacramento region, and taxpayers who have spent $2 billion on flood control since 1990.

There would be little reason for Donald Trump, a New Yorker, to know much about Sacramento’s history. And infrastructure – such a dreary word – is not the stuff of cable news or Twitter. But as we who live in the region understand, Sacramento is the most flood-prone American big city not called New Orleans.

The incoming administration should pay heed to the need to continue the nonpartisan practice of funding levee reinforcement. Failure to fund sensible flood control invites death and disaster, and is terrible politics, as President George W. Bush learned when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

A levee breach could inundate the Pocket, Land Park, River Park and Natomas within an hour. Water could be 20 feet deep in parts of the city. Interstate 5 and the Sacramento International Airport would be at risk.

To avoid all that, residents living in Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency boundaries wisely voted to tax themselves again last year to continue paying their share of levee improvements in the Natomas area, and along the American River and several creeks and tributaries.

The additional fees will generate $250 million for construction during the next three decades, and $121 million for operations and maintenance. The state and federal government are expected to match that local money with another $3.6 billion.

In the last five years, Uncle Sam, at the urging of Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, among others, has allocated $494 million for flood protection projects. Another $71 million should be headed this way in the 2017 budget, assuming Congress approves it.

Last month, President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which authorized hundreds of millions for improvements on the American River and in the West Sacramento area. Authorization is not appropriation, however.

Whether what Congress promised finds its way to Sacramento will be up to Trump. We urge his administration and him to understand that floods don’t recognize party labels, and couldn’t care less whether a state is red or blue.

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