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.

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§ 2 Responses to Levee alternatives study for Compton & Dominguez channels

  • Kudos! Thank you for your passion. I hope this won’t affect the greening of the dominguez channel – Randy De Leon
    We believe in what you said. – Pablo Reyes
    They are just trying to scare us. – Lilly Chase
    Does FEMA have research proving in the past, these type of water disasters have happened? – Grettel Ponce
    There should be more effective community outreach in the communities surrounding the levees – Karina Torres
    Thank you for speaking up about this and informing us – Facundo Tanta
    Are they going to doing anything to help the community help fund the mandatory flood insurance – Gerardo Gutierrez
    Thank you for mentioning the lack of resources for our communities of color along the Channel –
    Pamela Gonzalez

    We are appalled that this is even an issue. We understand the importance of and fully advocate taking the proper steps to ensure the safety of all communities, for all peoples.
    However any comparison between the semi-arid, mixed-Mediterranean, drought-ridden climate conditions of Los Angeles to that of Louisiana is, in our humble opinion, socially irresponsible.
    That said, being that the government wants to ensure safety and provide a safer community, students suggest instead of spending millions of dollars on feasibility studies, engineering studies, construction documents, levee certification, etc they spend it on making their communities safer by:
    – Using monies for better education in our low performing schools. Higher performing schools are safer schools.
    – Using funds to build more parks in low income areas. More parks mean more programming for youth. More programming means reducing the chances to join a gang. Less gang activity, means safer communities.
    – Using funds to invest in more local healthy food options. More access to healthy food means less health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Thus creating healthy, safer communities.
    – Using funds to create systemic safer conditions in our communities – funding more police; funding more job opportunities to aide in reducing crime levels; funding real community building capacity to engage in real community economic development. Investing in all these issues in low-income, communities of color along the Dominguez Creek will create safer conditions for the entire community.

    If the safety of these communities is a real concern, lets invest time and funding there.

    The Spaces of Blight Class, Environmental Charter High School

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Hi Spaces of Blight Students! Glad that you are involved in civic affairs and hope that as you continue on in your educations you continue to be!

      You raise many issues, but I’ll try to be brief. Flooding is a real concern, and I don’t want to give the impression it isn’t. However, the way we have dealt with flooding has, as you know, destroyed our local ecosystem – and as this levee recertification shows – we still have problems with adequately protecting people from floods. We do need engineering studies to get us to where we can agree to solve the problems. And we really, really need education – better funding for schools, but also education of adults who are being asked to chime in and give feedback on the solutions. Without an understanding of ecosystems and how other places manage floods, the average angeleno is probably going to shrug their shoulders at the “same old-same old” approach. A little education can go a long way towards invigorating local dialogues and creating meaningful consensus. As you saw from my piece, I am 100% with you that more investment is needed in communities in youth, beyond the purview of how we manage waterways – but those waterways also need investing too.

      Hope to visit you and your planting project on Dominguez Channel sometime!

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