The editorial below addresses the January flooding in California, but
many of the same arguments could be made for flood control in other
By Barbara Boyle
Sierra Club Regional Director, California, Nevada and Hawaii
The torrential rains that poured down across California in January
caused incalculable damage and heartache. The massive flooding
devastated property and led to several deaths. On the North Coast,
mudslides crushed entire neighborhoods.
Yet before the waters receded, the champions of concrete were already
raising the cry for more dams, notably Auburn Dam, which the Sierra
Club helped stop last fall.
In the Sacramento area, catastrophic flooding occurred from levee
failure on the lower reaches of almost every river except the American,
the river where Auburn Dam is proposed to be built. Instead of building
dams, the state and federal government should focus their funding on
repairing the existing levees, many of which date back to the early
part of this century, and moving residents out of harm's way.
Historically, much of the Central Valley near river channels was a
great network of wetlands which absorbed flood waters and helped to
prevent catastrophic floods. Unfortunately, over 90 percent of
California's wetlands have been drained and filled and are now covered
by developments or farms. We should be planning regionally to allow
development only on the least flood-prone areas. We also need to look
at the potential for improving human safety and ecological health
through restoring wetlands in some areas and creating seasonal wetlands
Mother Nature dealt a hard blow to California's North Coast, but the
damage was exacerbated by human foolishness. In addition to flooding,
hundreds of mudslides blocked roads and destroyed homes. Much of this
was due to irresponsible timber harvests. Nevertheless, the California
Department of Forestry continues to permit timber harvest plans in
areas that the Division of Mines and Geology considers unstable for
logging and logging roads.
Forests are not only huge sponges for rainfall; their root systems also
act as webbing that keeps the soil in place. And when steep hillsides
are carved with tens of thousands of logging roads, they quickly lose
their ability to absorb water, which has nowhere to go but downhill.
All too often, gigantic slides result.
The slides themselves are disasters, but when clearcut forests no
longer absorb the rainfall, flood waters are filled with silt from
logging roads, destroying not only people's homes but also the fish in
the rivers. On California's coast, the once-abundant coho salmon have
dwindled to 1 percent of their former numbers.
The lessons are simple.
- Repair existing levees; don't build massive new dams.
- Don't develop in the floodplain.
- Restore the wees; don't build massive new dams.
- Don't develop in the floodplain.
- Restore the wetlands that can help prevent flooding.
- Don't clearcut and build
logging roads on steep, unstable slopes. in the cheapest possible
locations. Big timber companies want to cut trees anywhere it's
We can learn our lesson, or we can keep marching to the tune of the
almighty dollar. It's our choice. Let's make a decision we can live
New Opportunity For Yosemite
Yosemite Valley is slowly drying out after what rangers are calling the
worst flood in the park's history, leaving behind hundreds of upturned
tent-cabins and acres of wrecked camp sites. But the natural process
that swept away a considerable amount of the human imprint on Yosemite
Valley presents an opportunity to restore the valley to a more natural
Many of the goals of the 1980 General Management Plan for Yosemite can
be achieved as part of the restoration efforts. This includes keeping
the valley's lodgings intact, but moving about one-quarter of the
remaining buildings, including worker accommodations and offices, out
of the valley and relocating campgrounds and outdoor facilities away
from the now-receded Merced river.
To take action:
Contact Sierra Club Yosemite Committee Chair Linda
Wallace at (916) 758-5034; e-mail:
for information on upcoming service trips to Yosemite and letter-writing
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