Report Raises Alarms About Sacramento Levees A new federal report says there's a 60 percent chance of a levee breach in Sacramento's fastest-growing area, effectively halting development there. Sacramento already ranks at the top of the country's most flood-prone cities.
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Report Raises Alarms About Sacramento Levees

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Report Raises Alarms About Sacramento Levees

Report Raises Alarms About Sacramento Levees

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And back to California now. About six hours west of where I am in Eureka, Nevada, you get to Sacramento, the California state capital, and a huge fast-growing part of it is at risk of a devastating flood. That word from federal flood control officials this week.

From member station KQED, Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: The Sacramento neighborhood of Natomas is home to 70,000 people. But this booming neighborhood also sits in a giant bowl known as the Natomas Basin surrounded on all sides by rivers and canals. And the Army Corps of Engineers now finds the levees that ring the area are in some places too short and in others too weak.

Colonel THOMAS CHAPMAN (U.S. Corps of Engineers): The levees are not of the protection that the people need.

Colonel Tom Chapman is commander of the Sacramento District of the Corps. They just completed a new analysis of the Natomas levees using standards required after Hurricane Katrina. Their findings? The flood risk is even greater than previously thought. As a result, Natomas will be reclassified as a high-risk flood zone. With that come major restrictions on construction and mandatory flood insurance.

Col. CHAPMAN: It's very significant for the city economically and for all those living in the Natomas Basin, and we realize that. But we also realize that to not say what we know is even more significant.

KEITH: Building restrictions would take effect in December. After that, any new building in Natomas would have to be hiked up above the ground about 20 feet. That's a de facto building moratorium.

Mayor HEATHER FARGO (Democrat, Sacramento): I am very frustrated and very angry.

KEITH: That's Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo. She said Sacramento leaders have known about these problems and are launching into a multimillion dollar effort to fortify the levees.

Mayor FARGO: When you have a community that is on track to get a level of flood protection, to cripple us economically in the process is absolutely dumb.

Col. CHAPMAN: Any time you use the word moratorium, there's an automatic reaction in the industry that I represent of unease.

KEITH: Unease may be a big understatement.

Dennis Rogers is with the North State Building Industry Association, and he says in this scary housing market, it isn't just the developers who would take a hit.

Mr. DENNIS ROGERS (North State Building Industry Association): And we're talking about the electrician who goes out to the jobsite and pulls wire. We're talking about the drywall installer. These are all folks that are blue collar workers and this has the potential of making it so those people don't have a job.

KEITH: But that's not what federal flood officials have to worry about.

FEMA regional engineer Kathy Schaefer offers this stark piece of advice to Natomas residents.

Ms. KATHY SCHAEFER (Federal Emergency Management Agency): Keep all your valuables on the second floor and buy flood insurance.

KEITH: Resident Denise Watts-Franken(ph) doesn't have a second story on her house, but she does see a silver lining in the bad news about the levees.

Ms. DENISE WATTS-FRANKEN: Now we know, now we can fix them. Hopefully that means I won't have to tie a boat to my roof.

KEITH: For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in Sacramento.

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