Levee alternatives study for Compton & Dominguez channels
April 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
County of LA review of channel flood capacity reveals that portions of Compton and Dominguez channels fail to meet flood standards, which if unaddressed will result in FEMA decertification and increases in flood insurance rates for property owners next to the channels. And while the County’s engineers have been soberly preparing to address this through studies and planning, fear-driven spectres of disaster scenarios have also been hinted at by public authorities – forebodingly called “Katrina West” by some.
Here’s the details on the meetings tonight and next week to give the County feedback on alternatives they can pursue to meet the flood standards.
Tonight, April 28, 6-8pm, Carson Community Center, 801 East Carson Street, Carson CA 90745
May 4, 6-8pm, Siverado Park, 1545 West 31st Street, Long Beach, CA 90810.
Thanks to James Alamillo at Heal the Bay for the heads-up about the meetings.
Now, about this “Katrina West” rhetoric. Dan Rosenfeld, a deputy for Mark Ridley-Thomas, gives us its meaning: “(o)ne of Los Angeles County’s biggest concerns is the adequacy of the levees downstream in minority communities – the Katrina West phenomenon. ” We have in Los Angeles a serious problem where communities of color are concentrated in areas with fewer parks per capita, aging and in some cases decrepit infrastructure, and fewer overall public services than whiter, more affluent areas. We have a very real disparity, one that reflects historical (and not so historical) failures of local agencies to take effective action. If they want to compare Compton, Gardena, South LA to the Ninth Ward there may be some valid parallels relating to class/income, segregation, and provision of adequate government services. And County Supervisors might want to question how these problems have managed to persist over the decades.
But Katrina West? I agree that there’s also flood zones in both L.A. and NOLA – our disasters are not typically characterized by hurricanes and storm surges, however. Lack of channel capacity and flood hazards are also not limited to minority communities, as the basin has continued to develop and become impervious since they were built, and development has been permitted in pretty obviously hazardous areas. When we have big rains, aren’t most of the disaster accounts out in Santa Clarita mobile home parks(a permitted use in a floodplain!), flash floods in the desert where people tried driving, or in affluent mudsliding foothill communities?
But Hurricane Katrina does also represent a massive failure of a highly engineered, de-naturalized system…hmm, I do see a parallel after all.
What Hurricane Katrina should have taught us is it’s not the storm surge we should fear, but the failure of infrastructure and our overconfidence in our ability to zero-out risk – creating even greater catastrophes in the process. If it is a storm surge or tsunami that you fear, don’t create a concrete superhighway in LA for it to travel up unimpeded. Higher levee walls will be much less effective at risk-prevention than the healthy coastal wetland and riparian forest buffer that flood infrastructure replaced. And if it is rainfall and flooding that you fear, consider that in a 100-year, 200-year, or 500-year storm neighborhoods will all be super-saturated regardless, your standard street drain inlet is sized for 15-25 year storms, and your soil will be completely saturated. There will be standing water that will take some time before it can even enter the drains and make its way into flood channels. And what those higher flood levees do is just pile up more fast-flowing water that will be catastrophically damaging if it should bust out. More open space, wider floodplains and natural terraces, wetland depressions are nature’s sponge that soften these effects. What if we expected floods and managed our landscapes with that expectation, rather than tried to eradicate them?
What troubles me is that this fear-mongering may be used to silence dissent if the old flood control paradigm gets trotted out as the final solution. After all, no one will want to get caught with the racist label for objecting to higher levees (or perhaps, levees and engineered basins) in the absence of other alternatives deemed viable by the County. And ecosystematic alternatives that address core problems such as the overdevelopment of historical floodplains and wetlands, will ultimately require political will. The best solutions would remove constrictions like overly-small culverts and low bridges and roads, and re-establish functioning floodplains, watercourses and wetland depressions – and that means money and land acquisition. When habitat enhancement alternatives that maintained existing flood standards for Compton Creek got a pretty tepid review by the County (to put it nicely), I saw the old paradigm and reluctance to exert political will at work. I fear that this path of least resistance (n=0.01 to your hydro nerds) will lead to more investment in concrete infrastructure.
In other words, if the solution is bigger levees, then go ahead, call it Katrina West. And while FEMA may accept that and homeowners may happily pat their flood-insurance-free wallets, remember that you’ve offset the date of disaster for a bigger storm than what you’ve designed for. And we saw how well that thinking worked for Japan. The residents of Compton, Gardena, Carson, South LA don’t deserve this served with the bitter irony of racially-coded messaging to scare them into accepting it.