Corps of Engineers Raises Alarm on Sacramento Levees

January 17, 2008

Levees protecting a sprawling neighborhood north of downtown are so weak that water from the Sacramento River is seeping through, threatening about 60,000 residents, federal officials said early this week.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency say construction in the Natomas area can be allowed only if built 20 feet above ground.

The government’s advice to home owners: Buy flood insurance and store all valuables on a home’s second story — if it has one, FEMA regional engineer Kathy Schaefer says.

The Corps issued its assessment after its latest review of the levees, which it had earlier decertified.

It found some sections are too low. In others, water was seeping underneath and through the earthen berms, causing parts of the levee to slowly give way.

The finding was a blow to Sacramento officials, who began costly levee improvements last summer and want only limited building restrictions while repairs are being made.

The Natomas basin is a natural sink that would be 15 feet underwater if flooded. The area has boomed with housing and strip mall development in recent years, and also is home to Sacramento International Airport and Arco Arena, where the NBA’s Sacramento Kings play.

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