Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 27, 2015

Strategic whiplash: fire to flood

Filed under: Climate Change,Futures,Mitigation,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on October 27, 2015

California is now in its fourth year of drought. In a state this big precipitation varies widely, but for example, in Bakersfield the average annual precipitation is 6.4 inches and through the end of September roughly 4.5 inches.  This year’s total at the end of September was 2.8 inches. The winter snowpack was almost non-existent this year.  The lowest in 500 years according to some.

The State of California reports reservoir levels as of October 15 are roughly two-thirds below capacity and less than half historic averages. Some examples: Castaic Lake 31% of capacity (40% of year to date average); Don Pedro 31% of capacity (47% of average); Exchequer 8% of capacity (18% of average); Folsom Lake 17% of capacity (31% of average); Lake Oroville 29% of capacity (48% of average); Lake Perris 36% (47% of average); Millerton Lake 35% of capacity (90% of average); New Melones 11% of capacity (20% of average); Pine Flat 12% of capacity (34% of average); San Luis 18% of capacity (35% of average); Lake Shasta 33% of capacity (56% of average); and Trinity Lake 21% of capacity (32% of average).

Since early this year Californians have cut their total water usage. For June, July, and August the cumulative statewide savings rate was 28.7% equal to 611,566 acre-feet of water saved. The Governor’s office has set a goal of saving 1.2 million acre-feet of water by February 2016. Some are seeing signs of a long-term shift in cultural attitudes toward water use.  Last week the LA Times advocated public shaming of Southern California water hogs.

Since January 1 there have been 5942 wildfires in California, consuming 307,335 acres, almost triple a five year average.

All of which further complicates the already tough job of selling flood insurance in California.

Yet last week Accuweather reported accumulating evidence for a powerful 2015-2016 El Nino, beginning to impact California in late November into December.

The most likely, and most impactful, scenario during this winter is that California will get significant precipitation in the form of both rain and snow.

“California will be much more active weather-wise this winter than last winter,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Ben Noll said.

Copious amounts of rain from systems over the same area, a theme which occurs often during this type of weather pattern, can lead to problems for California.

Locals may be faced with flooding and mudslides, which could prove devastating for home and property owners. This will be especially problematic over recent burn scar areas, where rampant wildfires have charred millions of acres.

According to the Census Bureau there are 12,542,460 households in California.  According to FEMA there are 229,538 flood insurance policies in force.  Hmmm?

Last week NOAA and FEMA made a concerted effort across California to raise-the-warning and encourage preparations, including purchasing flood insurance.  I happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time.  City, county, and state officials are taking the flood risk very seriously.  But it does require a particular exercise of the will to prepare for floods in the midst of drought.

And selling flood insurance in these conditions: How about ice to Eskimos or sand in Timbuktu or coal to Newcastle?  There must be a better way to recognize and mitigate the risk.

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7 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 27, 2015 @ 6:56 am

The State of California has received more direct and indirect federal disaster outlays since 1950 than any other state!

Next?

Comment by Vicki Campbell

October 27, 2015 @ 7:48 am

Bill, I’d bet good money that the majority of those expenditures are directly correlated with the passage of Prop 13, which is widely credited with destroying the state’s economy….

Comment by Vicki Campbell

October 27, 2015 @ 7:55 am

Phil, why in the world do you list this post under everything imaginable but “mitigation” for goodness sakes. I mean, good grief….really?

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 27, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

Most Californians never recognized the ecological edge on which the state balanced.

Perhaps division into two or three states would make clearer that the world’s 8th largest economy is driven by federal spending and state capitalism as much as China.

I think the economy of California would be more accurate perceived if all pretended it was three states.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

October 27, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

The full text of a letter PR release sent to DHS from California Senators Feinstein and Boxer is below. i think the questions pertaining to mitigation projects, strategies and actions at the end are especially appropriate.
_______________________________________________________________

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office

Washington October 16, 2015 – Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) today urged federal officials to prepare for the high risk of potentially devastating floods in California. A potentially dangerous El Niño—compounded by the effects of a historic drought and violent fire season—greatly increase the risk of deadly flooding and mudslides.

The senators also asked for details on steps already taken to ensure the federal response is properly coordinated.

The senators wrote: “Given four years of historic drought, a devastating fire season, and the likelihood that a strong El Niño will bring heavy rains to California, the risk of flooding is dangerously high. We are already seeing the potential for disaster. Mudslides and flooding on Thursday, October 15, trapped dozens of people in their cars and resulted in a partial closure of the Interstate-5 and other roads in Los Angeles and Kern Counties.”

They continued: “In 2013, the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group was created so that your agencies could coordinate to prepare for the type of disaster risk that California now faces. We hope that preparation and mitigation efforts are underway across the federal government.”

Text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretaries Johnson, Vilsack, and Darcy:

We write to urge you to prepare for the risk of flooding and mudslide disasters in California. Given four years of historic drought, a devastating fire season, and the likelihood that a strong El Niño will bring heavy rains to California, the risk of flooding is dangerously high. We are already seeing the potential for disaster. Mudslides and flooding on Thursday, October 15, trapped dozens of people in their cars and resulted in a partial closure of the Interstate-5 and other roads in Los Angeles and Kern Counties.

With the end of the fire season looms another potential catastrophe: flooding. The National Weather Service is predicting high precipitation levels this winter due to a strong El Niño, which could be stronger than the El Niño from 1997-98. That storm brought widespread flooding and mudslides, causing 17 deaths and inflicting more than half a billion dollars in damage.

We’ve seen this pattern before—devastating wildfires followed by severe flooding—most recently in Colorado in 2013. Colorado was devastated by flooding disasters following a devastating fire season. These floods killed ten people and destroyed nearly 2,000 homes. In 2013, the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group was created so that your agencies could coordinate to prepare for the type of disaster risk that California now faces. We hope that preparation and mitigation efforts are underway across the federal government.

Therefore, we ask that you answer the following questions regarding what your agencies are doing to mitigate flood and mudslide risk in California, and to prepare to respond to disaster conditions:

· What mitigation projects have your agencies completed in California to reduce the risk of severe flooding and to address the impact of drought and wildfire? Can any projects be accelerated prior to potential storms due to an El Niño?

· What funds have each of your agencies directed at such projects during the current and previous fiscal year, including appropriated funds, mandatory funds such as those provided in the Agricultural Act of 2014, and disaster funds?

· What steps have your agencies taken to coordinate with the California Office of Emergency Services, including the state-federal flood operation center and any other agreements such as the state-federal cooperative Silver Jacket Program?

· What steps have your agencies taken to develop an emergency and risk communications strategy with local governments and the public?

· Do your agencies have a documented strategy to address drought impacts and flood risk in California? If so, how is this strategy being implemented and evaluated?

· How have your agencies implemented key authorities to mitigate flood risk and to fund important conservation and mitigation projects, such as those provided in the Agricultural Act of 2014 and the Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014?

Thank you for your attention to our questions on flood and mudslide mitigation and preparation. We eagerly await each of your responses.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 27, 2015 @ 2:24 pm

Vicki: The absent tagging is entirely due to personal incompetence. I inherited the categories and have never learned how to add any. Mitigation should certainly be there. I have reached out for help. Will add the tag if I can tee-up the tag.

Thanks for the Feinstein/Boxer letter. Very nice add.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 29, 2015 @ 10:47 am

The NFIP has never mapped FLOOD-RELATED MUDSLIDES despite review of the issue by the NAS!

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