The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to press Congress to support the county takeover of 40 miles of flood control channels currently managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended asking federal legislators to support a study on transferring jurisdiction, something the board asked the USACE to consider nearly a year ago.
“The Army Corps does not have sufficient resources,” Solis said.
Director of Public Works Mark Pestrella estimated that there is more than $200 million of deferred maintenance for the flood control system, but the USACE receives less than 10 percent of that amount annually to address the problem.
County control would allow DPW to speed up required maintenance projects and upgrades to the miles of waterway, and better address the needs of the many homeless people camped along the flood channels, according to Solis and Pestrella.
L.A. County’s flood control system is one of the largest in the U.S., including about 500 miles of channels in total.
The DPW director said the USACE “operates this system with us in an outstanding manner,” but “sometimes their priorities are not the priorities of Los Angeles County.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she agreed with the idea of consolidating control of the flood control system but wanted “to make sure that we’re not letting the federal government off the hook” with regard to the Whittier Narrows Dam.
During public meetings in January, USACE officials warned residents that a very rare, very large storm could cause the 1957-era dam to fail, creating catastrophic flooding. The agency has ranked the dam retrofit as its highest national priority and issued a draft environmental impact statement in December.
Congressional authorization is needed for the work, which is estimated to cost as much as $600 million.
In a separate motion, the board voted to urge the federal government to quickly provide that funding.
Solis said failure of the dam, which stretches over three miles, could result in hundreds of thousands of pounds of water per second rushing toward homes.
“The rehabilitation of the Whittier Narrows Dam is a high priority because of the significant loss of life and high economic impacts that hang in the balance,” Solis said. “Millions of L.A. County residents live downstream of the dam, and we cannot afford to wait to begin these upgrades.”
One of the hardest-hit communities would be Pico Rivera, which sits directly below the dam. It is estimated that the city could be under 20 feet of water and nearby Downey could see 15-foot levels.
About 95 percent of the more than 700 dams managed by the USACE nationwide are more than 30 years old and better than half have either reached or exceeded their 50-year service life. It would take $24 billion, or 50 years at current funding rates, to repair all of the dams that need it, according to the USACE website.
A report on emergency measures for downstream communities is expected back in 30 days.