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This morning I gave a presentation at GIS in the Rockies held nearby in Windsor, Colorado. I posted my slide deck to slideshare earlier today but I wanted to explain the presentation more and then provide some links to more resources. Remember, any opinions expressed in this blog are my own and not necessarily representative of the company I work for!

My presentation was titled “Monitoring the Levees of Sacramento” and here was the abstract that I submitted for it:

At the end of 1996, over the New Year’s holiday, a series of storms (collectively called a pineapple connection) hit the Sacramento – San Joaquin River Valley. Over $2 billion in damage was done. Dozens of levees within the San Joaquin River basin failed along with many levees within the Sacramento River basin as well as the Delta. Nine people were killed and over 120,000 people were evacuated from their homes. After this event, an annual erosion inventory was started to help identify the weakest spots in the levee system and repair them. Early on, the amount of repairs actually completed was limited due to environmental concerns and political issues. Following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina event, during which levee failures caused extensive flooding to the city of New Orleans, concerns became heightened for the Sacramento Levee System which has a lower level of flood protection than New Orleans’ level of protection. In February 2006, the governor of California declared a state of emergency for the Sacramento & San Joaquin River Systems levees and emergency repairs were completed on the most critical sites. More repairs have been completed since and the annual inventory documents more erosion sites that can be repaired in a given year. In 2009, the inventory moved towards a fully digital means of data collection using ArcPad 8 and a Trimble GeoXH, standardizing the erosion inventory database and developing field forms to allow for easier and more efficient observation.

In my presentation I give a basic history of the flooding and levees from the early settlement in the mid 1800s up to the present. It’s a fascinating history. It is to me, at least! I have worked on Sacramento River and levee system for almost 10 years.  The levee repairs and erosion inventory work that I have been more closely involved with since 2006 has been the most satisfying project work that I have been a part of in my young career. In my presentation I discussed a little of what has been done and a little bit about what is left including the current status as far as I know. Later in the presentation, I get moe specifically into the move to establish a formal erosion site database and going from paper to digital when it comes to the annual levee inspections. You can view the slide deck below.

If it wasn’t clear from the presentation, the agency we worked closest with and who oversees this most of this work is the Sacramento District of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps have taken a lot of flack since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and  are nearly reviled in the Sacramento area as well in many other levee systems that they oversee. You have to understand though that the Corps is so much of the time merely the  middle man. They only have so much authority compared to the responsibility that is passed on to them. When they decertify levees, people and local officials scream bloody murder and disparage them in the media. Yet when the levees break and flood, they also crush the Corps. In Sacramento, for years, it was environmental issues that seem to hold up more repairs. Other times it has been simply been funding. There are some sharp folks working in the Sacramento District. They do more than you think with very little credit. Maybe there are some typical inefficiencies that come with federal level governance but these Corps folks care. They are looking at the levee problems locally as well as systemically and want solutions as much as anyone.

Here are some resources for further research and some of my external sources:

“Battling the Inland Sea” by Robert Kelley

California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Photo Library

1997 Floods, Northern California Information Resources

California Floods (Wikipedia)

Central Valley (California) (Wikipedia)

One other recommended resources:

California DWR Levee Repair Website

California DWR Delta Initiatives

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Did I get any facts wrong in my presentation? Do you disagree with my opinion of the USACE? Am I missing some excellent resources? Comment below!

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