There is an ancient saying in China: Your enemy always attacks you at your weakest points. Here in the floodplains of the Central Valley, our weakest points are along a levee system that is a century old. Water always finds the weak sections in a levee. It is finding them now.
Engineers are discovering more places where our levees are being eaten from the inside. State and federal agencies have fixed 33 of those erosion sites, but this month they announced finding 71 new ones. In other words, the enemy is attacking our weak points faster than we can armor them.
This is happening because, a century ago, engineers wanted to create fast flows in our rivers, to flush out debris from hydraulic mining. It worked. Now, we have rivers that are hungry for sediment. They are eating away at levees and they’re getting hungrier each year.
So, what can we do? Well, we can start by devoting more money to flood control. But ultimately, we need to do more. Much more. We need to redesign our levee system, create new bypasses and widen our river channels. We need to make peace with our rivers, because if we don’t, we will eventually lose this fight.
Stuart Leavenworth writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.