Why can’t FEMA, Biden fix some levees in the Sacramento area

Read Time:6 Minute, 13 Second

A single dam on the Cosumn River sustained $1.5 million in damage after recent winter storms ripped a hole the size of a football field. But the federal government’s Office of Emergency Management has not yet agreed to give local officials money to repair that embankment.

The agency has refused to fund that stretch of the river for years, saying the barriers don’t meet intervention criteria because they weren’t built to agency standards. He sees them as “dykes” rather than dykes.

The policy has had long-lasting effects in this corner of southern Sacramento County, where parts of the flood control infrastructure have remained in ruins for years.

In 2017, for example, storms broke levees along a 15-mile stretch of Cosum. Local authorities have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for help in repairing 16 infrastructure facilities damaged during the flood.

The damage assessment they submitted to FEMA shows that during these storms, water seeped under several levees and destabilized them; when the river went over one dam it caused 400 feet of erosion; two dams gave way altogether.

They estimate the work will cost $7.9 million.

FEMA denied the request, citing its governing code.

The cost of the damage in 2017 far exceeded the budget of the small agency that manages the Kosumna dams, Reclamation District 800 Kosum. The annual budget is about $500,000.

This winter, a new wave of severe storms broke through some of the same levees that failed to clear during the last round of extreme weather.

“We think it’s worth the investment of public money,” said Mark Hite, a trustee of the reclamation district that oversees flood control around Wilton.

Six years ago, FEMA helped the district with temporary emergency repairs, he said, but not long-term fixes. He also received financial assistance from other government agencies, but it was never enough to fully rebuild the dams.

Hite said it was annoying. “It’s like, ‘We’ll pay you to put your thumb in the dam.’ We will not pay you to repair the dam.’

After the last floods, the reclamation district could expect tens of millions of dollars in repairs.

Officials from FEMA and the California Emergency Management Agency toured the watershed by helicopter last week, inspecting damage from the headwaters of the Cosumnes in the Sierra Nevada foothills to the section of Highway 99 that flooded earlier this month.

Local officials came away with some optimism that they could get more help this time around.

“We have some really good things going on,” said Reclamation District Trustee Leland Schneider.

“It’s not just about the river dam,” he continued. “It’s the ramifications that happen on top of that and how temporary these repairs are that we’re doing to try to hold this thing together. I think everyone is really thinking about it now.”

How FEMA sees the Cosumnes levees

The holdup for years has been that, simply put, the structures on the Kasumna are not dams under FEMA standards and are therefore ineligible for funds.

Frank Mansell, FEMA’s public affairs specialist, said the levees must meet criteria that are “very specific and very prescriptive.”

FEMA determines levee as “a man-made structure, usually an earthen embankment, designed and constructed in accordance with sound engineering methods to contain, control, or divert the flow of water to provide protection against temporary flooding.”

Levees must “meet and continue to meet minimum design, operation, and maintenance standards consistent with the level of protection required through the Comprehensive Floodplain Management Criteria” in Code of Federal Regulations. This includes reaching a certain height above the flood line of the river and demonstrating adequate resistance to erosion.

The structures on Cosumnes do not meet these requirements; to FEMA, they aren’t even dams. However, Mansell said FEMA has funded projects to build homes near the river. Residents are obliged to accept money.

Other agencies may help with some costs

While FEMA cannot help, other state and federal agencies have stepped in to help communities in South Sacramento County near Cosumno.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, came to the aid of the reclamation area in 2017, said Greg Norris, the agency’s state conservation engineer. The agency’s mission is to help farmers and certain other landowners. It works on private property or tribal lands, such as around the Kosum River.

The agency was born out of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and after that its staff were “experts in soil erosion,” Norris said. Congress authorized it to carry out the Watershed Emergency Protection Program, which aims to protect homes and other private property from changes in the watershed, including floods that damage levees.

Through this program, the service must work in coordination with a local government agency that requests help and assumes a quarter of the cost for its residents – as it did in Wilton in 2017, when it helped fix three dams in Cosumna.

Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is heavily involved in levee projects in Sacramento, the corps only assists with repairs on projects it has worked on, said Ryan Larson, chief of the Corps’ Sacramento District Dam and Canal Division and one of the district managers of the levee safety program.

These corps projects are approved by Congress. After the project is completed, the Army Corps may return to repair the damage at the request of the local sponsor. The Army Corps was not involved in the construction of the Kosum River dams.

In emergency situations, the Army Corps can provide two forms of assistance to the state: technical advice or direct assistance with construction equipment. Larson said the Army Corps of Engineers at Wilton were asked and offered advice.

When President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in California from this winter’s storms, opening the door for more federal aid. This does not change FEMA’s position on what a levee is.

However, at the state level, the California Department of Water Resources may be involved.

“Whether a levee is FEMA accredited or not, DWR will still provide emergency assistance if requested,” said Todd Bernardi, the department’s flood control projects branch manager.

Although the Cosumna Reclamation District could match some of the compensation from the state and the USDA to repair river infrastructure, there is no stable source of emergency funding. In the absence of full funding, the people of Wilton had to rely on each other.

When the reclamation district requested the money from FEMA, it didn’t include the money and time spent by local farmers and workers, many of whom are expected to monitor floodwaters and sandbags during storms.

Despite the community spirit, the area is still more vulnerable to severe flooding with each new storm.

“Some of these levees need help,” Hite said, “and a half-million-dollar-a-year budget is woefully inadequate to do the work that needs to be done. That’s all.”

Related stories from the Sacramento Bee

Jillian Brasil is a congressional reporter for California-based McClatchy. She covers federal policy, people and issues affecting the Golden State from Capitol Hill. Graduated from Stanford University.

Ariana Lange previously worked at BuzzFeed News for six years. She has covered issues of gender-based violence and produced ground-breaking material on the porn and animation industry and discrimination against female filmmakers. She also worked as a freelance reporter covering health at USC’s Center for Health Reporting.

Source by [author_name]

0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %
Previous post The rehabilitation facility uses innovative treatments to help patients
Next post Rescued from the flames, the pioneering work of a UC Davis artist finds new life