Levees Protecting West Sacramento Need $8.5 Million in Repairs

Two levees protecting about 40,000 Central California residents from potentially catastrophic flooding need $8.5 million worth of repairs, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps — which finished the levees three years ago as part of a $32 million project — said the damage indicates “design deficiencies” that must be investigated, redesigned and repaired. The damage is primarily on the levees of the Yolo Bypass, an area north and west of West Sacramento that fills like a lake when the Sacramento River runs high.

Late last week, officials at the California Department of Water Resources said they could use funds from the $4.1 billion Proposition 1E levee bond fund that voters approved in November to help cover the costs.

But the state of the levees has left flood control experts disappointed. Three years ago, corps engineers told West Sacramento officials that the city had 400-year protection from flooding — a far higher safety margin than the minimal 100-year protection in other areas.

“Of course nobody likes to spend money to fix something that just got built,” said Rod Mayer, chief of the flood management division of the California Department of Water Resources. “We like to get it right the first time.”

Ken Ruzich said the damage is on the surfaces of the slopes — not deep within the levees. They need to be repaired but do not pose imminent danger.

“The idea is you spend $30 million on levees, and then every time it rains, you have to go back in and do repairs,” Ruzich said. “It’s just a matter of finishing up and doing it right.”

The first sign of distress came immediately after the 2006 New Year’s storms on a stretch of levee north of Interstate 80. Clay soils became saturated and slipped off in chunks.

Four months later, after another storm, damage appeared on a bypass levee south of I-80, again involving waterlogged clay soil that collapsed. The slumping caused the heavy-duty layer of rock on the surface, known as riprap, to fall away.