Liability response meets emergency response

In November, the news was full of the name Paterno – Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who was fired after the arrest of one of his long-time assistant coaches on child sexual abuse charges.

For people who follow water issues in the Central Valley, the name Paterno has another association – the 2003 Paterno Decision that held the state liable for flood-related damages to more than 3,000 homes and other property caused by a levee failure in Yuba County in 1986.  The court determined that the levee failure could have been foreseen.

This ruling, coupled with the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has had the state scrambling to cover itself foreseeing levee failures.  One result is the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP). On December 30, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) released the public draft of this plan, recommending “a State System-wide Investment Approach for responsibly meeting the State’s objectives to improve public safety, ecosystem conditions, and economic sustainability; while recognizing the financial challenges facing local, State and federal government agencies.”

(The document is available at )

This plan, which took several years to prepare, calls for $14 billion to $17 billion in repairs and other investments — including the $5 billion in bond funds already approved under Proposition 84 in 2006. Investments would be spread over the next 20 to 25 years.

The new plan is weak in the area of emergency response, a subject that got a lot of discussion in the Delta region during the early development of the plan.  Participants identified several specific management actions for improving emergency response and flood fight.  Those recommendations didn’t make it into the final draft.

Ron Baldwin, former chief of emergency services for San Joaquin County and now a consultant for engineers Peterson, Brustad, participated in early work on the CVFPP.  He suggests that the plan should at least have mentioned the recommendations of a task force formed under SB27, 2009 legislation that focused on improving emergency response in the Delta.  The SB27 task force was composed of a representative from each of the five Delta counties, DWR, and the Delta Protection Commission.

Of course, we are used to seeing documents prepared by people with Delta expertise ignored by consultants preparing new reports.  It makes us wonder how relevant the new report will really be.

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