The sun is shining but the flood waters keep coming

By Tim Johnson

A few days of sun make it easy to forget that a life-changing event is just a broken levee away. While the rains have stopped, at least for the moment, the pressure on the state’s reservoirs and levees is far from abated. A quick drive over the Sacramento, Yuba, Feather or American Rivers in the North make it clear that there is still a lot of water around. In the Central part of the state, floods threaten along the San Joaquin River which is also running high.

Farmers haven’t forgotten and they are not breathing a sigh of relief. In fact, most will tell you there is another month of touch and go before we can get past the threat of a levee breech.

Looking at the water statistics, the reason for their concern is clear. Reservoirs are very full and the snow in the mountains deep. Even with a normal spring, the 200 percent of average snow pack will melt, flow into the lakes and then down the rivers. Add a warm spring and there is even more concern. Remember this when we hit our first 70–degree day in the near future.

Before this year and talking with farmers and levee district managers, I thought these structures impermeable, solid and largely fail safe. The reality is far different. While improvements have been made, many were not designed to hold back such high waters for so long a period of time. Many of the levees are groaning under the load.

Like an aging pair of boots, levees sag, sluff and leak. When they do, it is the local farmers, levee districts and community that pitch in with their tractors, trucks and employees to stretch plastic, sandbag and dump rock.

So, far beyond our everyday lives, the battle rages – day and night to hold back the rains and coming snow melt of this epic winter. As one farmer said, “if we get through this without a levee break, I’ll be the most religious guy in the room.”

We can’t all be there on the front lines, but we can all appreciate just how fierce the struggle is and what is at stake.


Tim Johnson, CRC President & CEO