Padilla, LaMalfa Lead Call for Emergency Levee Repairs in Central Valley Ahead of Flood Season

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, and Representative Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.-01) urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to allocate sufficient resources to repair levees in the Central Valley before another winter of likely heavy precipitation and flooding. Their letter requests that the USACE Sacramento District immediately prioritize and allocate the requisite resources for these emergency levee repairs in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

The letter comes after the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the California Central Valley Flood Control Association (CCVFCA), and flood districts throughout the valley submitted hundreds of requests for Public Law 84-99 assistance to repair flood damage caused this winter and spring within the San Joaquin Basin, Sacramento Basin, and Delta region. These damaged levees protect major cities, including Sacramento and West Sacramento, as well as numerous rural towns adjacent to the rivers, which are home to over a million people and are the economic backbone of the region. The Sacramento District’s ability to address these requests has been delayed by high water throughout the summer and limited manpower to conduct inspections, and the District needs sufficient funding and staff to make these crucial repairs.

“Many regions in California are critically dependent on the California State Plan of Flood Control, a network of levees in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds. These levees have proven to be vital in mitigating flood risks and ensuring the safety of our residents and businesses,” wrote the lawmakers. “However, the relentless storms of 2023 caused extensive damage to this network, leaving numerous communities susceptible to potential levee failures during the upcoming flood season. The consequences of such failures would be devastating, resulting in property damage and destruction, severe economic setbacks for our constituents, and even potential loss of life.”

“In light of NOAA’s projections and the already damaged state of the levees, we strongly urge the Corps to take immediate action to prioritize the necessary emergency repairs and allocate the requisite resources under the provisions of P.L. 84-99,” continued the lawmakers. “By doing so, the Corps will be taking critically important steps to protect lives, safeguard property, and maintain the strength of our local economy.”

In addition to Senator Padilla and Representative LaMalfa, the letter is also signed by Representatives Ami Bera (D-Calif.-06), John Garamendi (D-Calif.-08), Josh Harder (D-Calif.-09), Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.-03), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.-07), and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.-05).

Senator Padilla has fought tirelessly for additional federal assistance for California communities devastated by atmospheric flooding earlier this winter and spring. This spring, he met with families, small business owners, and farmers in Watsonville and Pajaro impacted by the recent extreme storms in California after he and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-18) successfully led the California Congressional delegation in urging the Biden Administration to approve a Major Disaster Declaration. In March, Padilla, the late Senator Feinstein, Lofgren and Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-19) sent a letter to USACE urging them to accelerate construction of the federally authorized project to reduce flood risks faced by surrounding urban and agricultural areas, and to provide emergency repairs and response for the towns of Pajaro and Watsonville.

Padilla, Feinstein, Lofgren, and Panetta secured $149 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address the urgent flood risks along the Pajaro River, including the modernization of the 74-year-old levee system that was breached before improvements could be made. Padilla also pressed Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young to ensure adequate resources go to historically overlooked and low-income communities like Pajaro, which disproportionately bear the impacts of natural disasters due to a lack of adequate protections.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Assistant Secretary Connor:

As Members of Congress representing California communities profoundly impacted by flooding during the early months of 2023, we urge you to prioritize the critical emergency repairs requested under the provisions of P.L. 84-99 and to allocate the requisite resources required to bolster Central Valley communities, like those represented by the California Central Valley Flood Control Association (CCVFCA), before California’s flood season begins.

Many regions in California are critically dependent on the California State Plan of Flood Control, a network of levees in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds. These levees have proven to be vital in mitigating flood risks and ensuring the safety of our residents and businesses. However, the relentless storms of 2023 caused extensive damage to this network, leaving numerous communities susceptible to potential levee failures during the upcoming flood season. The consequences of such failures would be devastating, resulting in property damage and destruction, severe economic setbacks for our constituents, and even potential loss of life. These damaged levees protect major cities, including Sacramento and West Sacramento, as well as numerous rural towns adjacent to the rivers, home to over a million people and the economic backbone of our region.

The existing levee deficiencies are especially concerning with the current El Niño Advisory in effect. According to the latest El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on October 12, 2023, the atmospheric conditions for a wet flood season are present and strengthening. Current projections show a greater than 95 percent chance for ENSO to continue through March 2024, and a 75 – 85 percent likelihood it will develop to at least a “strong” El Niño.

In light of NOAA’s projections and the already damaged state of the levees, we strongly urge the Corps to take immediate action to prioritize the necessary emergency repairs and allocate the requisite resources under the provisions of P.L. 84-99. By doing so, the Corps will be taking critically important steps to protect lives, safeguard property, and maintain the strength of our local economy.

We understand the considerable challenges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faces in allocating resources across various projects nationwide, and we thank you for your unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of our constituents.

Sincerely,

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