Valley flood plan to be adopted; next phase begins


Issue Date: June 27, 2012
By Kate Campbell

A proposed Central Valley flood protection plan that six months ago barely mentioned agricultural land and rural communities has been expanded to address protection for these areas and resources.

Agricultural advocates say the plan still threatens to affect 40,000 acres of farmland and has other deficiencies, but that it does now address a number of issues important to private landowners and local communities.

For example, an early draft of the plan called for a Feather River Bypass, including enlargement of Cherokee Canal. Farmers, flood management agencies and community leaders told the Central Valley Flood Protection Board at public forums the decision could have serious adverse effects on downstream landowners.

The board highlighted this concern in the proposed plan it published last week and said it will revisit the issue at its June 29 meeting when it is scheduled to adopt a final plan. Publication of the proposed plan triggers the final phase of the plan's adoption.

"The efforts of Farm Bureau members and other agricultural stakeholders during the past five months have borne fruit in the contents of the adoption resolution, which will become part of the overall plan," said Justin Fredrickson, California Farm Bureau Federation environmental policy analyst. "Of course, neither the flood plan nor the board's resolution addresses all of agriculture's concerns—and, in fact, many of the major concerns for agriculture remain unresolved."

However, he said, "much has been added that reflects the concerns of agriculture, rural landowners and local communities."

Officials said implementing the plan once it's finalized could cost between $14 billion and $17 billion, invested during a 20- to 25-year period. In the process, about 40,000 acres of farmland, primarily in the Sacramento Valley, would be used to create "flood space" or system flow capacity. The increased capacity would come from new setback levees and bypass expansions.

The draft flood plan indicates that about 10,000 acres of flood space would become permanent habitat. According to the draft plan, the remaining 30,000 acres would remain farmable, subject to flood easements and seasonal flooding, similar to farming in existing bypasses today.

The California Department of Water Resources developed the plan as required under a 2009 law adopted by the Legislature in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Flood protection infrastructure evaluated in the process of developing the plan includes about 1,600 miles of levees and 1,000 miles of channels. About 300 miles of levees help protect urban areas, which the plan calls for upgrading to protect against a 200-year flood, and about 1,230 miles of levees that protect rural areas would be strengthened to withstand a 100-year flood.

Also included in the system are about 420 miles of privately owned levees that experts call instrumental to the system's effective functioning, but are not part of the state's responsibility.

For the past six months, the flood board has been engaged in a detailed, and at times intense, conversation with the public to determine what changes, if any, needed to be made to the draft plan, board president Bill Edgar said.

The newly-published proposed plan notes that "agriculture in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins provides substantial economic and societal benefits to the region, the nation, and the world, providing vast quantities of food and fiber. Many specialty crops produced in these basins are grown only in a few other places in the world. Agriculture provides substantial open space and habitat. This agricultural economy needs to be protected whenever possible."

The plan now proposes 100-year structural flood protection for some small communities within the planning area and non-structural means to support continued small community land use.

The plan also calls for expanding existing bypasses, modifying some bypass weirs, reoperating reservoir storage and operations, and modifying Folsom Dam.

The flood board adoption proposal also calls on DWR to prepare a recommended schedule and funding plan by Dec. 31, to implement the plan's recommendations beginning in 2013.

"The published flood plan proposal reflects many of the points made by Farm Bureau members and California agriculture," Fredrickson said, adding that he is "grateful for the willingness of farmers and ranchers to get involved in the details of the plan and share their practical expertise with state agencies."

He said county Farm Bureaus had organized effective, grassroots efforts to educate and inform planning officials and policy experts about the flood-protection needs of agriculture and rural communities.

But, Fredrickson added, "many controversies regarding the plan and implementation remain. Furthermore, with final adoption of the plan, the focus will shift to regional planning issues, which will again require involvement by agriculture and local agencies."

Updated information on the regional planning phase of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan is available on the CFBF website at www.cfbf.com/issues/water/flood.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.