Pomboza caught obstructing new flood maps

Today's top story in the Merced Sun-Start was about more than 470 claims filed by residents near the city of Merced who suffered damage from flooding last spring. The are against the Merced city, county and Merced Irrigation District. The newspaper did not inquire whether the Franklin-Beachwood area is in a flood zone, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency 's 20-year-old maps. Possibly, none of the lawyers interviewed, who had their statements duly recorded, mentioned the fact either. It seems, from an insurance standpoint, the fact might have some bearing on the cases.

FEMA flood-plain maps around certain parts of the city of Merced were objects of concern to building department officials as early as 2000, but in the wake of Katrina, FEMA decided to draw new maps. Evidently, the effect these maps might have on the forward march of development in Pombozastan aroused the suspicions of representatives RichPAC Pombo, Whale Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Polar Bear Slayer-Merced, who were able to block the circulation of these new maps until after the election.

Below is a collection of the major articles on the fix in chronological order. We were happy to learn that "the probability is higher that you won't have big floods," and that once again in Pombozastan honest graft was found to be the universal solution to all human complaint.

Bill Hatch

Editorial: Reality bites
Delaying release of FEMA maps would help politicians, not communities at risk
Published 12:01 am PDT Sunday, July 2, 2006

Egged on by developers and local politicians seeking re-election, several Central Valley congressmen are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay the release of updated maps that will provide homeowners and businesses a more accurate picture of flood risks.
FEMA should resist this pressure. The government hasn't updated most of these maps for 20 years, despite several damaging -- and revealing -- floods during that period. Following Hurricane Katrina, there has been a major national push to update the cartography. It needs to happen as quickly as possible.

Updated maps are essential for the National Flood Insurance Program to determine which property owners must buy insurance and which should consider it optional. Without updated maps, communities can't make informed decisions about development in the flood plain. Most crucially, prospective homeowners may end up buying homes in unsafe places, with no knowledge of the risks.

Much has changed since these maps were drawn. In some watersheds, the spread of pavement has increased runoff downstream to other communities. Scientists have learned more about the frequency of West Coast storms. Engineers have discovered problems with levees, which provide protection for tens of thousands of homes in the Valley.

The problem is that new maps frighten local officials, such as those in Lathrop who are planning new homes in suspect areas.

They alarm the mortgage industry and certain development interests, who have purchased and optioned cheap land in flood plains that could be affected by FEMA remapping.

Given the money at stake, it's highly suspicious that U.S. Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, and other lawmakers are urging FEMA to delay the release of preliminary maps. FEMA had planned to release the maps in Octoberweeks before the November election.

Some in Congress say Valley residents will be thrown into a panic if they learn they live in a flood plain.

"Until communities can better understand the potential impacts of the map modernization program, the release of these preliminary maps would be premature," Cardoza said.

Such statements are baffling. As Cardoza notes, these FEMA maps are preliminary. The reason for releasing them is so communities can review them, debate them and understand how they might affect insurance and land-use plans before any final versions are approved.

FEMA recently bowed to pressure in remapping flood plains in New Orleans, putting thousands at risk. It shouldn't do the same here -- especially not for a handful of politicians who would rather enhance their re-election chances than face the realities of floods.

Mission accomplished - a joint effort of Pombo and Cardoza!


Wait to find out if you need flood insurance may last past election
Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer
Published Monday, Oct 9, 2006

The release of federal maps that could determine whether thousands of San Joaquin County homeowners must buy flood insurance likely will be delayed until after the November election.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is evaluating which levees are capable of withstanding anything short of a 100-year flood.

If the levee behind a home fails that test, the federal government could require that the homeowner buy flood insurance - at best costing several hundred dollars a year, at worst more than $1,000.

Or homeowners might have to pay higher property taxes to raise cash to bolster weak levees.

The maps originally were due to be released early this month. In June, a team of lawmakers asked for a delay to give cities and counties more time to prove their levees are adequate.

On Friday, a FEMA spokesman said it's unclear when the maps will be published. In two weeks, officials may be ready to announce a date, James Shebl said.

"There are a number of reviews to make sure all that is required by law is included on the maps, checked and double-checked," Shebl said.

A spokesman for Rep. Richard Pombo said Friday that the maps might not be released until December. By then residents will have voted not only for candidates but also on a $4.5billion levee-repair bond.

Lawmakers have said their proposed delay is not political but is necessary to allow cities and counties time to demonstrate their levees are sound.

The levee study is part of a greater FEMA effort. In all, the five-year, $1billion project will map out 65 percent of the nation, an area encompassing 92 percent of the population.

A decade ago, a similar mapping project forced San Joaquin-area officials to build 12 miles of new levees and improve 40 additional miles, costing close to $70million. Nearly $14million came from property owners' pockets.

This time, if a large number of levees are ignored, the new maps could "wreak havoc" on residents' ability to secure building permits, said Steve Winkler, San Joaquin County's deputy public works director.

It's unclear whether that actually will happen, he said Friday.

"They're holding their cards close to the vest at the moment," Winkler said.

After discussions with cities and counties, FEMA agreed in some cases to approve levees provisionally for up to two years, delaying a high-flood-risk designation. By the end of the two years, however, the levee owner must prove its durability.

"We were relieved to get that new clarification," Winkler said. "Some of this documentation can be very expensive and time-consuming."

The number of flood-insurance policies in California has decreased in recent years as some levees were reinforced, said Tully Lehman, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California. Hurricane Katrina spurred a reassessment of the entire levee system, he said.

Homeowners with mortgages backed by federally regulated lenders - in other words, most mortgage holders - are required by law to purchase flood insurance if their homes are in high-risk areas. That includes residents who already live there when the high-risk designation is made, said Shebl, the FEMA spokesman.

In a statement late last month, FEMA mitigation director David Maurstad said no levee system will provide full protection.

Many levees are 150 years old and might be decaying over time.

"When levees fail, they fail catastrophically," Maurstad said. "The flooding may be much more intense and damaging than if the levee was not there."

Levee woes pile up; El Niño raises concern as crews rush to make critical repairs at more than 70 new Central Valley sites
Sacramento Bee – 10/17/06
By Matt Weiser, staff writer

State and federal officials have identified at least 71 more damaged levee sections throughout the Central Valley that could fail this winter, and in an unusual step they plan to undertake repairs lasting well into the worst of the rainy season.

Levee experts normally seek to complete repairs by Nov. 1, the official start of flood season, because working in winter adds risks and complications. Swelling rivers can put repair areas under water, and saturated levees may become unstable under heavy truck traffic.

But the 71 new sites have the potential to fail without attention, so repairs are considered urgent. Many protect populated areas, including Clarksburg, Isleton, Plumas Lake and Chico. Others protect vital roads and utilities.

"From a construction standpoint, it's going to be extremely challenging," said Mike Inamine, chief of levee repairs at the California Department of Water Resources. "In the event that we can't get to all of these sites, we're making provisions with the Army Corps and our own forces to get ready to fight floods at these critical sites."

Adding to the challenges, an El Niño weather pattern is in place this winter.

Forecasters predict a 33 percent chance for above-average rainfall south of Fresno. Normal winter conditions are predicted in Northern California, but that could change because the El Niño pattern is still strengthening, said Kelly Redmond, deputy director of Western Regional Climate Center, an arm of the National Weather Service.

"There's nothing in this El Niño forecast that should have Northern California residents worried about floods," said Redmond.

"But most winters bring some episodes of fairly heavy precipitation anyway. And every El Niño seems to bring its own little kind of surprise."

The 71 new levee repair sites come on top of 33 "critical erosion" sites now being fixed under an emergency order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Identified in surveys before last winter's storms, they are set to be finished by Nov. 1 at a cost of $190 million, said Don Kurosaka, Water Resources project manager.

Four sites recently added to that initial list won't be finished until Nov. 30, however.

The work involves replacing sections of levee material that eroded away, then armoring the levee with layers of large rock.

"Right now we are in a crunch, and we're working on getting some of the quarries started working on Sundays just to make sure we meet our deadline," Kurosaka said.

Of the 71 new damage sites, 35 were identified in July after initial post-storm surveys. The rest were spotted in more recent surveys of the levee system.

The new sites will add at least $150 million in repair costs, Inamine said. They stretch across a vast area, on both the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, from near Colusa in the north to Mendota, Fresno County, in the south. Some involve not just erosion, but through-seepage problems as well.

More sites could be added, because additional surveys are under way.

State and local agencies plan to repair 27 of the sites; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will do the rest. The state is paying for all the work under AB 142, a state law adopted in May that appropriated $500 million for emergency levee repairs.

But the federal government is obligated to pay for most of the repairs, and the state plans to seek repayment.

"We're going after every cent of reimbursement due us," said Inamine.

The 71 new repair sites were damaged in last winter's storms. Though not record-setting, the pattern of last year's rainfall put unusual strain on levees.

First came heavy rainfall in January that pushed river levels up against levees for the duration of winter. Then another pulse of heavy rain in April kept rivers high most of the summer.

The high water delayed levee repairs on known problem sites. It also delayed detailed inspection of other levee stretches.

That's why these 71 new repair sites are only now getting started, said Meegan Nagy, readiness section chief at the Corps of Engineers.

"We were unable to even see many of the sites until June," she said. "You had water on the levees for, in some cases, five months. That's just not a normal condition, so I think that had a big impact on the types of damage that we saw on these levees."

Flood officials plan to work on the damaged sites as far into winter as conditions allow. If flooding conditions occur, high water may prevent access to damaged areas, and soaked levees may not support the weight of trucks and bulldozers.

To prepare for that, Inamine said, officials plan to position equipment and materials to defend weak levees during a flood in case construction has to be stopped.

So far, the forecasted El Niño does not make that more likely. El Niño, caused by higher Pacific Ocean temperatures at the equator, shifts the winter jet stream south. Historically, this has caused both wetter and drier winters in Northern California, and forecasters say the region could go either way this time.

"Every El Niño that comes along has got a little bit different pattern," Redmond said. "Exactly who in the West might get above-average precipitation and who might be drier is pretty hard to say."

Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, believes the El Niño prediction has been overblown.

"Right now, what we see is pretty weak, and it's pretty late in the El Niño season," Patzert said. "When you have these situations, the forecast is very difficult, and the probability is higher that you won't have big floods." #

Merced Sun-Star
Attachment: Public Notice
Merced Sun-Star Merced, Calif.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Changes are made in Determinations of Base Flood Elevations for the unincorporated areas of Merced County, California under

the National Flood Insurance Program
Flood damage claims pile in...Leslie Albrecht
More than 470 people have filed claims against the city of Merced, Merced County and Merced Irrigation District seeking what could amount to millions of dollars for damages they say they suffered during the devastating floods that swept through Merced in April. Fresno attorney Mick Marderosian filed the claims on behalf of the residents, who live in the Franklin-Beachwood area and on the southwestern edge of Merced along Lopes Avenue, Thornton Road and Ashby Road. That area suffered the brunt of the April floods, which caused $10 million in damage countywide and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency. The claims include allegations that the city, county and MID failed to maintain canals and levees, which led to the flooding that damaged residents' property. The claims also argue that raw sewage from a treatment plant on Drake Avenue escaped from the plant during the flooding and contaminated residents' property. "The government here has violated the state constitution and federal and state laws regarding the Clean Water Act," said Marderosian. "They have affected our environment at a level comparable to the Love Canal." Holly Doremus, a law professor at UC Davis, said the government was most recently forced to pay flood damages in 2003 when the state of California was ordered to pay $600 million after a Yuba County flood caused by a weak levee...could mean that it's more likely other flood victims could collect financial compensation. City Attorney Greg Diaz said he was not "unduly concerned" about how the Yuba County ruling could affect
Merced's flood case. "We've had flood cases before and the city of Merced has been very successful before," said Diaz. "We anticipate a similar outcome." The county, which hasn't decided whether it will deny the claims, has hired attorney Terry Allen to represent the county when the case moves to federal court.