Natomas Flooding Concerns Dry Up in Drought

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NATOMAS--

There was nothing close to a packed house at a disaster preparedness town hall meeting held this week at Allen Hight Elementary School.

"Fundamentally, it's difficult to think about a flood when you're four years into a drought. That starts to feel very unrealistic, but as we know, Mother Nature is fickle and she can change on a dime," said Sacramento Council Pro Tempore Angelique Ashby.

That is true, but Sacramentans in this part of town have a lot to feel better about.

"Feeling very comfortable that there won't be a flood," said Adam Sartain of south Natomas.

"Lot of the worries have been alleviated by Pro Tem Ashby's office and a lot of the information given to us makes me feel good," said Nathan Ulsh of north Natomas.

With $410 million in local and state funding, 18 of the 42 miles of levee that surround the Natomas basin have been widened, strengthened and heightened.

That work in the last seven years finally prompted the area's de facto building moratorium to be lifted.

That moratorium began to hover over this booming part of the city like a dark cloud after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined in 2006 that existing levees were subject to seepage.

Two years later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency rezoned Natomas as high-risk.

That required any new structures to be raised about 25 feet - proving too much of a logistical and financial challenge for anyone to take on.

Now, three months into its first building permit boom in almost a decade, many folks are counting on the area's patchwork quilt of unfinished neighborhoods to fill-in.
"An incomplete neighborhood is a neighborhood people aren't necessarily comfortable investing in," said Keith Sharward, co-founder of the Witter Ranch Community Alliance

And with Natomas still awaiting $1 billion approved federal dollars to tackle the other 24 miles of levees left to fix, the community is one very accustomed to 'hurry up and wait.'

"It depends on what else is going on in the country...like if a Hurricane Katrina happens somewhere else... that would make it harder for us,' said Ashby.

"Probably five to six years of worth allocations would gets us to a finish line in seven to eight years on those levees which is actually really good...because there are mile markers along the way. That end of the line that I'm looking for is a 200-year level of protection. That's the highest in the country."