Corps principles

We owe today’s opening quote to Brigadier General Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, commander of the South Pacific (Pacific Southwest) Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), who was in San Joaquin County this week to be briefed on county emergency services, flood protection, and integrated regional water management.

Since two-thirds of the Delta is in San Joaquin County, the Delta was on the agenda.

General Donohue seasoned his address to attendees with aphorisms like “Think big, go big, go fast.”  You could argue (and RTD does argue) that thinking big about water engineering in California has created the problems the Delta faces today.  Einstein might suggest that big water engineering is not the level of thinking we need to solve those problems.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to NOT build something big.  Important work can be accomplished on a smaller scale.

If it were up to USACE and DWR, much of the work done by San Joaquin County in the last decade to protect urban residents would still be undergoing feasibility studies.

Ron Baldwin of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services called for empowering local agencies to respond in a flood emergency.  Mike Hardesty from the north Delta called for including local expertise in levee design. Jay Punia of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board called for continuing subvention programs because the most cost-effective work is done with local engineers.

Nate Hershy of MBK Engineers called for spending the money allocated for levee repairs.  (See the next story.)

Reclamation District No. 17 Manager Dante Nomellini said that evolving levee requirements should be accompanied by funding, easier permitting, and time for implementation.  He said that the system isn’t structured so that those who want to do the work can do it.

There is no shortage of good ideas in the Delta region.

Dr. Mel Lytle, Water Resource Coordinator for San Joaquin County, connected flood management to water supply.  “Inter-regional conjunctive use” – capturing water in wet years here at “the bottom of the bathtub” and storing it for deliveries statewide in dry years – could  meet some of the water supply challenges resulting from what he called the “Bernie Madoff Water Policy” by which the state committed to deliver five million acre feet of water that it never developed.

Melinda Terry, Executive Director of the California Central Valley Flood Control Association and Manager of the North Delta Water Agency, pointed out that all BDCP conservation measures are flood projects because they affect levees.  She said she is concerned about the BDCP redirecting flood risk.

It was Melinda who argued – successfully – that the Corps needed to have a representative on the BDCP Steering Committee.

Despite frustrations with the Corps – and we know Delta landowners have plenty of frustrations with the Corps – this region may have a better ally in USACE than in a state agency (DWR) that has an institutional investment in moving water around.

Donohue showed a pie chart with three equal sections: Water Supply, Ecosystem Restoration, and Flood Risk Reduction.  Donohue noted that no current process – not the DSC, not the BDCP, not the CVFPP – addresses all three.

He made it clear that the Corps is committed to flood risk reduction – to public safety.

At least on paper, the Corps of Engineers has added their own third leg – public safety – to the wobbly stool the legislature gave us with the co-equal goals.

It isn’t the leg we lobbied for, but we can use it.

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