The Crumbling of America

The History Channel amuses me, as many of their shows seem to be fact checked by contestants on “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” (the adults, not the kids), yet I still tune in to their shows. Today, I watched The Crumbling of America, which details the disasters that American cities face from our dilapidated infrastructure.

Of course, Sacramento’s levee system is highlighted. My favorite part is their computer simulation of a levee breach in Natomas, which consists of a picture of water superimposed over a picture of Arco Arena. Woo, high tech!

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Stating the obvious

Obvious Point #1

It’s been too long since we’ve had a new post, so here goes the obvious assertion that it’s a great idea to have a moratorium on new construction starts in the Natomas basin.

If you don’t believe me, take a trip to New Orleans (as Sac-Eats and I just did) and talk to some of the locals about some building decisions their officials made over the past couple of hundred years.

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Who’ll start the rain?

Tower BridgeLast year at about this time, the rivers were challenging the strength of our levees and across the community you could feel that “Honey, did we pay the flood insurance?” vibe. The American River, normally invisible from the levee top in Glenn Hall park, was suddenly right there, mere steps away, and on theHighway 80 route into downtown Sacramento appeared to be an island at the edge of the vast inland sea that was the Yolo Bypass.

This year? Bupkus.

You could ride a mountain bike across parts of the Yolo Bypass basin today, the Sacramento is content to sit in its channel and the American remains its normal lurking presence off-stage at Glenn Hall park. Up in the Sierra, the reservoirs are nowhere near capacity, with the experts suggesting the rest of the water season will be “either above average or below average.”

Gee, thanks.

With Chicken Ranch Slough meandering right behind my house, I’m perhaps more aware of flood risk than anyone outside River Park or the Pocket. After all, in the floods of the ’80s and ’90s, it was the creeks and sloughs that caused much of the problems, backing up like toilets when they couldn’t dump their run-off into the rampaging rivers. Needless to say, I sent off my flood insurance check to State Farm, although after Katrina I don’t have a lot of faith that insurance will help much after the 100-year flood we all know is coming So like  many Sacramentans, I watch the rivers, pray for the levees, am ready to run and hope for the best.

And in the dry years, I wish for just a little more of the wet stuff, aware that too little for too long is almost as big a problem as too much for a few days. But seems the wet stuff — or even a little of the white stuff — is on the way.

Water, water everywhere

Cool’s mention of “The Good Old Days” on Channel 6 had me thinking of another show telling a Sacramento tale over the last few days.

Anyone catch “Mega Disasters: California Katrina” on the History Channel? The whole thing was revved up for maximum panic — the scarey music, the re-playing of a computer-generated loop show water crashing up the steps of the Capitol and a flood tide sweeping away the I Street Bridge. But there’s no denying the thing is sure thought-provoking.

Hmmm. Better check my flood insurance.

A flood of attention

As most of us have heard, Arnold the Governor has been lobbying in DC to get some federal support for our flood control system:

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will visit California to get a first-hand look at the state’s levee system, Gov. Schwarzenegger announced.

Of course, Chertoff wouldn’t commit to a specific time to visit the soggy state. I heard he’s waiting for better weather, because, you know, it’s not worth surveying our flood control systems while we’re being threatened with, like, flooding.

In other flood-related news, the Sacramento Business Journal and the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce are holding a holy-crap-what’ll-happen-if-it-floods breakfast (at $50 a pop but $40 if you register before March 8) at the Hyatt Regency on March 15. We may drown, but not without making sure we’ve partaken of the most important meal of the day.

The Katrina effect

Still not sure what to make of this flood season hullaballoo. At first it seemed a bit overblown–especially on the day when it didn’t rain a drop and yet all the news was doom and gloom. At one point, I kid you not, Dirk Verdoorn smirked and compared the situation to New Orleans pre-Katrina. Seriously. And I frequently see news anchors begging on-the-spot reporters for confirmation that we were indeed, all going to die, and getting little in response. As I returned on 12/31 from Home Depot shopping for equiment to fix my sump pump (there’s a flood on, didn’t you hear?) I was informed by my wife that Dann Shively was in LiveCopter 3 cruising around looking for trouble spots and reporting back that he couldn’t find any. The other night Grace Lee was in Rio Vista, which is apparently getting hit pretty hard, reporting from the high school which was acting as an emergency shelter for evacuees. Head count? One family.

But even the national news does seem to be indicating this is going to be bad. Things may indeed get worse before they magically get better, so I’m reserving most of my snark. But I’ve been through quite a few flood seasons (though I went to college in L.A. so I was always heading back down to 75-degree weather when the shit was starting to hit the fan) and my hunch right now is that we are having a normal Sacramento January, and that we are experiencing a Katrina effect on the news media. Any thoughts?