Sunday, 27 November 2022

Middle Creek levee makes national list of levees not properly maintained

 

UPPER LAKE – Upper Lake's Middle Creek levee is among 121 other levees around the nation that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says have not been maintained at acceptable levels. 

The list of levees, released Thursday, includes 37 levees in California alone that the Corps says have unacceptable maintenance inspection levees, which can arise from a number of conditions: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culvert conditions.

 

Jeff Hawk, acting chief of public affairs for the Corps' Sacramento District, reported that California has 516.5 miles of levees rated poor, fair and unacceptable; most of those levee miles, 368.5, were rated poor.

 

The Corps notified levee owners before making the list public.

 

Jim Sandner, chief of operations for the Corps' Sacramento District, told reporters Thursday that last summer Congress directed the Corps to do a levee inventory. The levees included in the list of 122 had recent inspections – from 2005 of 2006 – that didn't meet acceptable standards, he said.

 

Thirty percent of those levee projects, said Sandner, are in the Corps' Sacramento District.

 

That includes Middle Creek, which is part of the Middle Creek Flood Control Project. That project, according to government documents, includes 14.4 miles of levees. The system's upper portion protects Upper Lake from flooding by Middle Creek and Clover Creek, while the lower portion of the system protects farmland and some residences being inundated by Clear Lake.

 

Corps officials did not specify which levee in the Middle Creek project was not suitably maintained, or if the entire area was part of the listing.

 

Deputy Director of Public Works Bob Lossius and Pam Francis, Lake County Water Resources Program manager, could not be reached for clarification on the subject on Thursday.

 

Middle Creek is the site of a proposed restoration area that would flood 1,280 acres of agricultural land, remove three miles of the substandard levees and increase safety for county residents, according to the Lake County Water Resources Web site.

 

The site also explains that the levees along Middle Creek are prone to failure, having settled up to three feet below the original design grade, and were not constructed properly in the first place. Further, the Corps has reported that Middle Creek's levees provide only a four-year level of protection against floods although they were designed for 100-year protection. Evacuations in the area were necessary in 1983, 1986 and 1998, and nearly became necessary in 1995.

 

Meegan Nagy, readiness chief for the Corps' Sacramento District, said most of the 122 levees are in rural or agricultural areas. Sandner added that levees protecting heavily populated areas are inspected annually, but that's not always the case with agricultural levees.

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also is in the process of recertifying levees. Sandner said this report could impact that process because engineers wouldn't sign off on recertifying levees in unacceptable condition.

 

“This is a significant problem for the state of California,” said Sandner.

 

He added that there are issues over and above the operation and maintenance of these projects that cause concern the state and the federal government concern for the structures' stability.

 

Dave Killam, a Corps' spokesman, explained that many of the state's levees were built more than a century ago and didn't have the same design standards as today.

 

The study that led to the list of levees with maintenance issues arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said Killam, during which New Orleans' levees failed.

 

“We want people who live near these levees and these reclamation districts to be aware that these problems exist and that rehabilitation needs to be made,” Killam said.

 

The Corps already has begun repairs on other critical levee sites around the state not included on the list, said Killam. Already 33 of those structures – many of them located in urban areas – have been repaired, he added.

 

The Corps will work on levee owners during a yearlong “correction period,” said Killam.

 

If maintenance issues are addressed during that period, said Killam, and levee owners can prove that they've brought the structures up to acceptable standards, they may be eligible for rehabilitation funds.

 

A DWR document reports that Lake County, unable to maintain Middle Creek's substandard levee – which documents show the Corps had refused to repair – relinquished its operation and maintenance to the Reclamation Board, which requires an annual maintenance assessment of $150,000. 

 

The list of levee units is attached or may be viewed at www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/releases/leveelist.pdf/.

 

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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