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January 2005

SRCAF Should Heed Fatherly Advice

Former State Senator Jim Nielsen, the author of SB 1086, the legislation that led to the creation of the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum (SRCAF), has apparently seen the light. In an article penned by Nielsen, he parodies the book "1984" by George Orwell, playing both historian and prognosticator on the topic of flood preparedness here in the Sacramento Valley.

Nielsen begins by depicting the settlement of the Sacramento Valley and the reclamation and agriculture that shaped this region. He describes the implementation of the flood control infrastructure upon which this region relies for its health and welfare. He continues by discussing the complacency of those who live behind the protections provided by this system of levees, weirs, and bypasses. This complacency led to the idea to use the flood bypass areas for wildlife habitat, for the public to take control of the land for the benefit of endangered species.

It is then that he begins to foretell the future, surmising that attitudes would change, people would want critters to replace farmers, the region would become a recreation area for city folks, the precious water that farmers were wasting would be available for other uses. We could import food, who needs farmers anyway.

Nielsen then illustrates how the region’s landscape can quickly change if we neglect to take proper care of the flood control system, foretelling of the misfortune to come: "There came an exceptionally rainy winter. The river rose and stayed high. Water was diverted into the bypass that was now entangled in verdant growth. The water couldn’t spread out so it rose higher on the levees. The water rushed into the thousands of critter burrows washing through the tiny tunnels propelled by gravity and the pressure of an enormous volume of water seeking a way out of the confining tunnels. With a deafening "whoosh" the water blew through the levee. The breach widened as millions of gallons rushed through. Nature took its course."

" All the stupid people’s houses that had grown up on the thousands of acres near the bypass were flooded and washed away. The lawyers moved in. The people moved away. . . The brush and trees grew where the houses and cities once were . . . The river was freed of its confining banks and could meander over the valley again. The critters were happy."

"These places once had names, Woodland and Sacramento."

Nielsen is to be applauded for his honesty, and commended for his foresight. The protection of our homes, farms, businesses, and towns has always been dependent on the proper care and maintenance of the flood control system. However, are the right people listening to this message and working to remedy these errors in judgment, or are we relegated to the dismal end that he predicts?

A recent white paper by DWR that attempts to recommend changes to remedy the current state of disrepair of the flood control system acknowledges the following: Where we once cleared over 7,000 acres of vegetation within the flood channels, we now only clear 1,000 acres; we have decreased sediment removal programs by 80%; we have neglected to repair almost 200 erosion sites; and we have greatly reduced funding and staffing for these crucial tasks.

How ironic it is that we are instead now using that taxpayer money to acquire lands within the levees and in the bypasses to fill them with vegetation. We promote a river meander and large woody debris that reduces the conveyance capacity even further. We neglect erosion sites and fail to protect our levee systems.

Even more ironic is the fact that the SRCAF, the fledgling offspring of Nielsen’s SB 1086, is the very group that is hastening the occurrence of his doomsday predictions.

FWA continues to attend the SRCAF meetings to carry the voice of rural agricultural communities in an effort to combat the projects and policies that threaten the safety, economic viability, and agricultural sustainability of our region.

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