On August 30, 2005, a major American city was lost. But New Orleans' fate did not come as a surprise to the many scientists and engineers who had long warned of the potential for catastrophic flooding along the Gulf Coast. Those same voices are now sounding a cry of alarm for Sacramento. Sitting at the confluence of two major rivers, is the country's 26th largest metropolitan area ill-prepared to deal with a New Orleans-scale flood.
Since it was founded, the city has relied on a patchwork quilt of levees to keep the Sacramento and American Rivers at bay. The Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Sacramento's levees are built only to 100-year standards. In other words, a storm that has a 1 in 100 chance of occurring any given year would put Sacramento underwater.
And after the floods of 1997, the Corps of Engineers found that seepage damage had further weakened Sacramento's levee system. In all, 89 miles of Sacramento levees are in need of repair or reconstruction. Meanwhile, efforts to raise Folsom Dam by seven feet have overrun their projected costs by a half a billion dollars.
Sacramento's New Year got off to a shaky start as a hard rain drove the rivers to dangerously high levels. Residents in Napa to the west and Tahoe to the east were evacuated as floodwaters swamped their communities. When the storms finally subsided, officials at Sacramento's Flood Operations Center realized we had narrowly dodged a bullet. But the rainy season has barely begun, and next time Sacramento might not be so lucky.
But the worst thing that ever happened to New Orleans might prove to be Sacramento's saving grace. Money and resources earmarked for levee repair after the 1997 floods had been diverted after several "dry" years. But with images of devastation still burned into the public consciousness, there's a new drive to shore up Sacramento's aging levee system. And as new developments continue unabated - even on floodplains, such as the Natomas basin - the need for new, stronger flood protection is imperative.
The program chronicles Sacramento's never-ending battle with its rising rivers, follows the progress of the Army Corps of Engineers as they race to repair Sacramento's aging levees, and examines "worst case scenarios" with experts like UC Davis Geologist Jeff Mount, and Les Harder and Victor Pancheo of the Flood Operations Center. It also offers sound ideas for how you can best prepare your family and your home in the event of a catastrophic flood.