California officials approved a plan Friday that recommends major investments in the state's aging system of levees that protect people and farmland in the Central Valley, which has one of the highest flood risks in the nation.
The plan, adopted by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, calls for as much as $17 billion in repairs and investments in the levees and other infrastructure, including $5 billion in bond money approved by state voters.
Officials and experts agree that the flood control system built along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers by farmers and governments over 150 years is in disrepair.
In addition, the area where the two rivers meet, once mostly agricultural and lightly populated, has experienced rapid development and population growth.
About a million Californians live on the floodplains, and the levees protect an estimated $69 billion in assets, including the state's water supply, major freeways, agricultural land, and wetland and riparian habitat.
Yet more than half of the region's urban and rural levees do not meet standards. And about half of the channels are believed to be inadequate to handle projected flooding.
In 2006, after Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, former Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for California's levee system and ordered critical repairs. That same year, voters approved nearly $5 billion in bond money for flood protection projects statewide.
Legislators also mandated that the state develop a plan to reduce flood risks. Officials said money for pro-jects to be done under the plan approved Friday would come from a mixture of federal, state and local sources, with investments spread over the next 20 to 25 years.
The plan adopted Friday doesn't include specific projects, but offers recommendations concerning floodway and bypass expansion; improvements to intake and gate structures; urban and rural levee repairs; fish passage improvements; and ecosystem restoration.
It also calls for limiting growth in undeveloped floodplains and encourages smarter land-use planning. It advocates purchasing conservation easements to prevent urban development.
Although the plan recommends bypass expansions in the next five years, an idea strongly opposed by farmers, whose land would be flooded, it specifies that modifications should focus first on the furthest downstream bypasses in the systems, such as the Yolo and proposed Paradise Cut bypasses.