when the levee breaks...

A recent article, deeply buried, said:


BY SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has withdrawn its endorsement of levees protecting parts of Sacramento, reversing a 1998 evaluation that has facilitated a construction boom in the Natomas area.

In a letter released Tuesday to The Associated Press, the Corps' chief engineer in Sacramento attributed the decision to local and federal studies that have unearthed levee vulnerabilities.

"Based on this information, we can no longer support our original position regarding certification of the levee system surrounding the Natomas area," wrote Thomas E. Trainer, chief of the engineering division.

The letter was forwarded to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which certified the Natomas levees in light of the Corps' 1998 finding the levees provided 100-year flood protection.

The certification led to skyrocketing development of the Natomas area — a section of the state capital north of downtown that flood experts now say could be submerged by at least 13 feet of water if the levees failed.

An area with 100-year protection has a one chance in 100 of flooding in any given year.

If Natomas were to lose its 100-year designation, flood insurance would become mandatory for people with federally insured mortgages, insurance rates would increase, and building restrictions could be implemented.

But local officials described the Corps letter as an expected formality, which they have been told should not change FEMA's current assessment of Natomas.

That's because the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which commissioned a March study that first identified the gapping weaknesses in the levees, has already begun a $370 million project to upgrade the system to 200-year flood protection. That is twice the protection required by FEMA.

"We're not going to wait for FEMA to act, we're got to act to resolve this," said Pete Ghelfi, director of engineering for the Sacramento flood agency.

He said construction should begin next year to fortify the Natomas levees over the next five years.

In total, 20 of the 26 miles of levees surrounding Natomas need some kind of work, including erosion protection, deeper walls to prevent seepage and greater height to withstand bigger floods.

FEMA spokeswoman Kim Walz confirmed that the agency would not re-evaluate the Natomas area if Sacramento officials fix the levee problem.

Jeffrey Mount, a professor at the University of California, Davis, said local planners now face a real decision about whether to temporarily curb construction behind levees that will not be strengthened for another five years.

"The politically difficult question is whether you continue to put people at risk," Mount said. "Is there the political will to halt development out on the flood plain until they've got this worked out?"



Jeff Mount is a great geologist, who has done a lot of work in rocks near and dear to my heart (the White Mountains and the Poleta Formation, in particular). He was also fired from a flood advisory position by Schwarzenegger for daring to suggest that Sacramento could face a Katrina-like disaster because of its weak levees.

Now we see the Army Corps retreated, trying to shift blame away from itself before all hell breaks loose. Remember that the levees in the Delta are even more dangerous; a breach in them will flood the California Aqueduct, and cause SoCal to lose half its water. No one wants to talk much about this, no one wants to spend the money now to shore up the weak levees.

I find it grimly funny that the Natomas area of Sacramento, built in such a bad place only because of the assurances of the Corps, now finds itself abandonned and subject to increased mandatory flood insurance. Could this get any worse? Yes--when the levees fail.

field trip complaint

A student writes (in text exactly as I received it):

“So let me get this strait. We have to go on field trips that are really far away. The field trip on Sunday is going to be close to a 4 hour round trip. That is going to cost 40 dollars for gas, 3 dollars for toll, time spent off work,wear and tear on my vehicle, and a waste of a weekend. And your telling me that isn't enough to get the extra credit? We have to do a write up on top of that? I figure dishing out all this money and eating up my weekend should be enough. And Why are the Field trips so far away? There are rocks everywhere! I don't understand your reasoning for this.
And about your tests. I think we should be aloud to bring in a note card of some type. There are way to many weird definitions to remember. All this information is really just going to be to memorize for the test and then brain dump. We just want to fur fill a science requirement. We don't want to devote our lives to rocks.”


Because this missive expresses concerns that many students have, although do not articulate to me, let me respond issue by issue.

> That is going to cost 40 dollars for gas, 3 dollars for toll
Some students have this idea that tuition is the only cost of going to college. I don’t know who told them this idea, but in my experience the tuition is about half of the accrued expenditures of going to college.

Consider books. Many students are outraged at paying $100 or more for textbooks. But as instructors, we regularly observe students chatting away on cell phones, a luxury that for some people produces a bill far in excess of this. Fashionable clothes, iPods, movies—all of these things cost money, but for this spending there seems to be no regret. It is comic to hear students complain about buying books or paying tolls as they spend greater sums on frivolous pleasures and socializing. They seem to expect that going to college should not necessitate a reduction in living standards.

> time spent off work
More and more colleges are changing their schedules to allow gaps of hours between classes, stretching the classes out over the course of the entire day, in order to prevent students from going to part-time jobs. These colleges find that students who are also working are distracted from their studies and achieve poorer grades.

While this will not, of course, happen at the JC level, any student transferring to a 4-year school will get a very rude shock if he or she expects accommodation because of a work schedule.

> a waste of a weekend
Or was it just one day?

What rubs me wrong is this sense of an entitlement to a “weekend.” Only people with union jobs are guaranteed weekends. All other employees dread the Friday afternoon request by a boss to work the weekend; this was perfectly parodied in the film “Office Space.”

More and more, 4-year schools are finding that they can put more instruction in a semester if they schedule midterms on weekends, outside of classtime. In my experience, there is very little flexibility with this—you either show up to the midterm at the time scheduled, or you flunk the class. So expect that if you are transferring, you may not get class time off in order to take a test, but will have it scheduled during a Sat or Sun, presumably “wasting” a weekend.

> We have to do a write up on top of that?
You will be hard pressed to find a science course at a 4-year school that does not require a write-up in order to get credit for a field trip. And as this class is required to be equivalent of a university course in order to qualify for transferablility, I feel I should follow this standard.

> And Why are the Field trips so far away? There are rocks everywhere!
Of all the comments in this email, this is the one that get to me the most. It reminds me of the biology instructors who, when arguing for splitting up funds between bio and geology, say that they should get more money because “You can just go pick up a rock anywhere.”

I really feel like I’m not getting through to a person who thinks this. But I’ve come to expect that with some minds there is only so much I can do to reach them.

> There are way to many weird definitions to remember
Yes, indeed. If you already knew the vocabulary, then there wouldn’t be any challenge to the class, would there?

> All this information is really just going to be to memorize for the test and then brain dump.

I know what you mean. The analogy I always made when I was a student was to shitting. You eat all this food, digest it a bit, trying to extract something useful from it, then in one cataclysmic moment, you blow it all out, using the paper of the final test as toilet paper. Of course, this is hardly an original thought; students have probably been noting the brain dump as long as there have been universities.

> We don't want to devote our lives to rocks
Is one field trip a lifelong devotion to rocks? And why not, anyway? :)


In my dream my parents live in an enlarged, vertical version of their real house, with an ornate rococo roof, replete with gables and terraces. And scampering around on this roof I see a small humanoid. It pounces with Gollum-like ease over the roof, and as it rushes toward me, screeching, I see that it does indeed resemble Gollum, although the face looks like Macaulay Culkin with large eyes.

I try to alert my father to this thing I have seen, but no matter how many times I explain it, he refuses to believe it. There are other people in the house, however, and they are curious. They open windows and peer out trying to see this monster.

It is then that I understand the monster had planned this all along. As people lean out to look, a cold, muscular hand reaches from above and yanks them headfirst out the window. They die as they hit the ground far below.

As I pass a window, desperately trying to shut it, I find myself face to face with this monster, which growls at me between yellowed fangs. I awake screaming.


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