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Winter 2008

NEW YEAR BRINGS NEW FLOOD LAWS

Effective this year are four new flood control laws that make many changes, from renaming The Reclamation Board, to how counties and cities update their General Plans. The bills were authored by four Central Valley Democrats: Senator Mike Machado (D-Linden), Assembly member Lois Wolk (D-Davis), Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento).

First, Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), authored by Senator Machado, represents the most significant change in policy with the biggest fiscal impacts to the state. It requires that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) create a new statewide plan for flood control. The legislation allocates $6 million dollars from Proposition IE and 84 to accomplish this goal. The new plan is expected to absorb massive tracts of prime farmland and other private property. The state retains the power to use eminent domain and this creates a real threat to north valley farmland. The new plan will also include counterproductive environmental objectives, such as river meander and increased wildlife habitat, therefore jeopardizing the flood control system and choking it with woody debris and vegetation.

Furthermore, SB 5 requires non-urban communities to reach higher flood protection before new housing developments can be approved. This would prevent communities who wish to grow in the Sacramento Valley from doing so, until improvements have been made to the flood control system to give these communities higher level of flood protection. This provision has the potential to prohibit rural communities from future economic growth.

Tied to the aforementioned legislation is Assembly Bill 70 (AB 70), authored by Assemblyman Jones, that requires local cities and counties to bear financial liability in the event of a failure in the flood control system. This is an attempt to bridge the disconnect between local planning and flood control efforts. A fundament flaw in the legislation is that while local counties and cities may have land use authority they are not responsible for the state flood control system, which has been neglected for decades.

Third, is Senate Bill 17 (SB 17), authored by Senator Florez, which reorganizes the State Reclamation Board. The first change is that the board is now called the Central Valley Flood Protection Board. The legislation changes the number of board members from seven to nine and establishes four-year terms. Seven of the nine members are still appointed by the Governor, but they will require Senate confirmation. The two other members will be appointed by the Senate Rules Committee and the Speaker of the Assembly. Those two members are Assemblywomen Lois Wolk and Senator Mike Machado. The board will have the authority to make land use decisions in flood prone areas. Also, the board will have multiple objectives including ecosystem restoration and the promotion and recovery of native
plant and animal species.

Lastly, is Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), authored by Assemblywomen Lois Wolk. This bill is almost identical to SB 5 and sets requirements for the allocation of Proposition 1E and 84 monies. The bill address the liability issues the state bears in coordination with local planning efforts. The bill gives complete control of the floodplain to DWR with little input given to locals. The plan seeks the path of least resistance ignoring proven flood control methods such as dams and flood control system maintenance. Since both methods are considered not to be environmentally friendly they are ignored as a way to provide public safely to local communities.

It is apparent that these bills are an attempt to address flood control policy in our state, but they may actually put more people at risk and devastate our local rural economies. North state communities have been the sacrifice zone for many urban areas and these bills strengthen that premise. It may take devastation, such as we saw in Louisiana before the state wakes up and addresses real issues not just the political motives of this in Sacramento. ■

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