Disaster Prevention is a Federal Responsibility, Improved Flood Protection is Imperative

Published in The Sacramento Bee on February 27, 2013

Disaster Prevention is a Federal Responsibility, Improved Flood Protection is Imperative

By Congresswoman Doris Matsui

Natural disaster will always strike our country, devastating communities and harming our national economy. Facing floods, fires or earthquakes, our nation has never simply sat back and let communities fend for themselves.

In a country as connected as ours, we do our best to protect ourselves and provide disaster aid when needed. We also know that providing aid after a disaster is more expensive than preventing it in the first place.

At the confluence of two major rivers, Sacramento has confronted the threat of flooding since its founding more than 160 years ago. Residents and leaders are well aware of the risk we face, and we work every day to reduce it. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock believes that the federal support for levee improvements should be in the form of a loan ("Floodplain dwellers should pay full cost for levees," Feb. 22). However, the responsibility to strengthen America's infrastructure, including its levees, is in fact a federal responsibility.

The federal responsibility to strengthen America's levees has always had bipartisan support. In fact, it was President Ronald Reagan who implemented the 65 percent federal and 35 percent state and local cost share. For three decades, Congress has followed this cost-share formula when funding necessary projects, including many in Sacramento.

The region's plan to reach a 200-year level of protection is within reach and has widespread support. Many projects, including the Joint Federal Project at Folsom Dam and the Natomas Levee Improvement Project, are under way. We continue to move these projects forward, knowing any distraction will result in unacceptable delays that leave the public and taxpayers at further risk.

The need to invest in prevention is clear in the Natomas area, which if flooded could cause over $7 billion of damage, displace more than 100,000 people, harm our international airport and stall nationwide commerce by blocking Interstates 5 and 80. Residents have voted twice to raise their property taxes to pay the local share. California voters funded the state share when they passed Proposition 1E in 2006. Non-federal interests have paid over $400 million, and the levee work is already half complete. Yet, we still await federal authorization.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and I have offered creative solutions to advance the project, despite an "earmark" ban instituted by House Republicans that has hampered federal flood protection efforts across the nation. In a sign of progress, the Senate is working on a Water Resources Development Act, the legislative vehicle for such authorizations.

It is past time for Congress to authorize the completion of the work in Natomas and appropriate the necessary funding. Anything less is penny-wise and pound-foolish.