Is California prepared for floods?
Though the entire left side of California hugs the ocean, the Golden State does not often suffer from devastating ﬂoods. While a portion of the state’s resources is allotted to anti-ﬂood measures, the government tends to divert funding to pressing short-term issues.
“Part of the challenge of evaluating California ﬂood response is that signiﬁcant floods are not that common in the state,” said Chase Porter, professor of political science. “In 2018, 24/7 Wall Street put together a list of the 30 most destructive ﬂoods in the history of the U.S. Two of the 30 were in California; one of those two was due to a dam failure. So, to some extent, we are not vigilant in ﬂood preparation because we just don’t experience that much ﬂooding. In 2017, the Public Policy Institute of California noted that California has had 10 signiﬁcant ﬂoods in the state’s history.”
Some argue that regardless of the frequency of ﬂooding in California, our water management and ﬂood control infrastructure is hopelessly outdated. Dr. Elaine Ahumada, professor of public administration, said the issue of poor infrastructure primarily arises from inefficient government policies.
“[The infrastructure] is in need of severe repair,” Ahumada said. “We need to actually spend probably close to millions, if not billions, of dollars to ﬁx it.
“So when we look at the infrastructure that has existed from the start, when the population of California was much less, you had these river channels that were going straight to the ocean to carry water and overﬂow of water. But now, those are not adequate.”
While there are several opinions on California’s ability to deal with ﬂooding, the fact that ﬂoods rarely happen makes it difficult to have a deﬁnitive idea of what needs improvement.
“I do think we are under-equipped for ﬂoods here in California because we have no suspicion that a really horrible ﬂood will ever come our way,” said Elizabeth Sharpe, junior environmental science major.
“We have been in a drought for quite a while, but with that being said, our planet is unpredictable, especially with climate change being as prevalent as it is. California does have some decent ﬂood preventative infrastructure like dams, but we need to be more prepared than that.”
Additionally, Ahumada argues that tsunamis are a more signiﬁcant threat than most people realize.
“We’ve had 150 tsunamis,” Ahumada said. “In 2022 in January, we had a tsunami that hit Santa Cruz that caused, you know, $5 million minimum damage to just the coastline there.”
The ﬁrst step toward ﬁxing these issues is to obtain the necessary funding. One way would be to increase taxes. However, with California’s slew of federal, state and income taxes, it would be challenging for citizens to get on board, especially concerning something that will not have any noticeable short-term effects.
Another less feasible outcome is renegotiating how much taxpayer money goes to water management. Ahumada raised the idea of decreasing social program funding, but her ideal solution was for government programs to increase efficiency. If more cost-effective methods are put in place, more funding could be redistributed to infrastructure needs.
At an individual level, citizens can improve the environment from the comfort of their own homes.
“People need to get involved in their own backyard,” Ahumada said.
“People will be surprised at how many nonproﬁts or environmental groups there are just in the Inland Empire. And if people want to actually get involved and be a stakeholder in the community, to be a participant of solving some of these community issues, they really can, especially students who are working on a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, with plenty of opportunities to get involved in our own backyard.”
To improve water management infrastructure, Californians must be conscious of the policies they support and make an individual effort to create a safer environment.