Flood Map Changes Worry Sacramento Officials, Builders

February 21, 2008

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s plans to designate Sacramento’s fast-growing Natomas sector, north of the Sacramento and American rivers, as a Special Flood Hazard Area AE Zone in December is stirring up widespread concern that the new requirements could amount to a building moratorium for the city during a time of budget constraints.

“I am very frustrated and angry with the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA because Sacramento has really become the poster child of what to do right in flood protection,” said Mayor Heather Fargo, indicating that she may seek congressional intervention.

In mid-January, the Army Corps of Engineers designated sections of the Notomas levee unsafe, noting that some portions did not even meet the 30-year flood standard. In early February, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that his administration would expedite the implementation of $211 million in Proposition 1E funds to four critical levee improvement projects in Northern California. The funding includes $49 million for the Natomas Levee Improvement Program in Sacramento County. The plan is part of the governor’s agenda to rebuild California’s aging infrastructure while at the same time boosting the state’s economy by creating jobs.

The governor has also asked President Bush to increase federal flood protection funding for California in his new budget and help streamline the process to approve projects. “We must do everything we can to protect Californians from dangerous floods that could harm communities, agriculture and our water supplies,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger. “This money is an important step in addressing the serious public safety concerns that have also put hundreds of millions of dollars of Natomas development in jeopardy.”

The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency said it hopes to complete the Natomas levee upgrade by 2010 to bring the system up to the federal government’s minimum requirement of 100-year flood protection. After that, growth in the Natomas basin could resume.

When the new federal flood hazard mapping is finalized in December, new buildings – or substantial reconstruction of existing buildings – would have to be as much as 20 feet above ground. In addition, flood insurance would be required for those having federally backed mortgages. The Alliance of Insurance Agents and Brokers is advising its members to get ready for a “flood” of new flood policy inquiries in the months ahead.

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