California infrastructure stressed by new storms as state's $7 billion water bond money goes unspent

California infrastructure stressed by new storms as state's $7 billion water bond money goes unspent
California infrastructure stressed by new storms as state's $7 billion water bond money goes unspent

The latest storms hitting California have caused flooding, levee breaks, sinkholes and concerns about the state's dam safety.

Rain continued in some areas Tuesday even as a new storm was forecast to bring more rain next weekend.

The storms were the result of what's known as atmospheric rivers, which produced floods up and down the state and heavy winds that led to several weather-related deaths. There also have been broken levees and caused other stresses to the state's aging flood-control systems.

"You've got some levee breaks here and there but you always have those when you get heavy flooding," said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. "The infrastructure itself is not compromised in a significant way, except for the Oroville [Dam spillway] problem."

Even so, money that could have been used to modernize the state's water infrastructure and build more water storage has been held up due to red tape at the state level that requires a lengthy regulatory and bidding process.

In 2014, California voters approved a water bond that authorized about $7.45 billion in spending, but as of Tuesday $7.39 billion had not been issued, the state Treasurer's office told CNBC on Tuesday.

The state is still finalizing regulations for the water storage portion of the Proposition One state water funds and there's no firm date for when the first projects will be completed since several additional hurdles remain.

"It is a long process to go through,' concedes Joe Yun, interim manager of the California Water Commission's water storage investment program. "The regulations had to include a lot of different things."

Some lawmakers have been critical of the delays in putting to the water bond money to work.

"Incredibly, the 2014 Water Bond was passed three years ago but there still isn't a single project listed on the state website to use the funds," said State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach, California). "It has been over two months since Proposition One money could be spent and still not one project is shovel ready."

Allen added: "With Jerry Brown's constant calls for 'shower cops' and telling Californians to kill their lawns one would think that the state would have broken ground January 1st. Instead of our state fixing our water system and capturing more of this valuable rainfall from the recent historic storms, Californians are now watching our dams crumble and trillions of gallons of water go down the drain thanks to Jerry Brown's inexcusable record of inaction."

CNBC reached out to the governor's office for a response.

Repairs at Oroville Dam could exceed $200 million and it's still unclear if the federal government will help with the bill. The state has been repairing the damaged emergency spillway at the Northern California reservoir and also will be needing to fix the erosion on its primary spillway.

The Oroville reservoir fell to 50 feet below its elevation capacity early Monday after water outflows since last week helped lower the lake's levels. The reservoir, the state's second largest, is expected to rise due to the rains but officials say it remains at safe levels from a flood-control standpoint.

Precipitation levels in the state's Northern and the San Joaquin Valley regions are now more than 200 percent of normal for the water year to date.

San Francisco topped its average rainfall for a full season as of Tuesday morning, coming after the latest series of powerful winter storms. And lingering showers were forecast for the Bay area into the evening by the National Weather Service.

Also, many of the state's reservoirs are far and above their historical averages for this time of year.

Shasta Lake, the largest single reservoir in California, is at 127 percent of its average capacity, and three reservoirs in the state were at more than 100 percent of capacity as of noon Tuesday - Antelope, Englebright and Pardee.

The Don Pedro Reservoir in Stanislaus County reached 830 feet elevation Monday, activating its spillway for the first time in 20 years. The reservoir remained at 828 feet Tuesday morning, with outflows continuing to go into the Tuolumne River and raising concerns of flooding in Modesto.

"They are trying to operate in a non-damaging stage to the town of Modesto," Mitch Russo, intelligence chief with the California Department of Water Resources' flood-operations center said Tuesday.

Lake Comanche, which is about 70 miles northwest of Don Pedro Reservoir, also was quickly filling up and could spill Wednesday, according to Russo.

Russo said no flooding was expected due to Comanche since the water outflows are not likely to exceed the current levels from the facility's hydropower facility. "They will back up off the powerhouse to zero and then let the spill occur," he said.

To the east, there were low-lying areas along the Coyote Creek in San Jose that were flooded and the city's fire and police were helping trapped residents with evacuations into Tuesday. And further south areas along the Carmel River in Monterey County also experienced overflowing and caused evacuations.

In Central California, a levee breach in the town of Manteca in San Joaquin County led to the evacuation of several hundred people Monday night. It was still in effect Tuesday morning as crews worked to repair a levee on the San Joaquin River as rain continued to fall.

Meantime, in Southern California had some areas Friday that received as much as 6 inches of rainfall in 24 hours and there was precipitation reported into the weekend and some areas on Tuesday.

Major L.A.-area freeways and streets experienced flooding from the storms and crews over the weekend were still struggling to remove trees downed from the heavy winds. Already soaked grounds led to additional problems throughout Southern California, including mudslides in hillside communities.

Fire crews also rescued motorists along flooded streets in several Los Angeles County areas, including Sun Valley.

One death in the L.A. area was blamed on electric wires falling during heavy wind during the rainstorm and another fatality occurred about 80 miles northeast in the Victorville area when a motorist became trapped during a flash flood.

Finally, a 30-foot sinkhole appeared in L.A. community of Studio City that swallowed two cars Friday night. Officials blamed it on a sewer line problem.


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