Friday, 25 January 2013

FYI for Governor Brown: Katrina and Sandy killed over a thousand people and destroyed thousands of homes

Governor Brown’s state of the state speech invoked the destruction of Katrina and Sandy as the primary justification for his plan for the tunnels.

The primary tragedies of Katrina and Sandy were lost lives and destroyed homes and property.  Katrina killed over a thousand Americans and Sandy killed over a hundred, and caused billions in local property damage.  The state’s assessment of a mass flood, Delta earthquake scenario predicts similar levels of fatalities and local property damage.

In both Katrina and Sandy, there were also some significant secondary disruptions on gasoline markets and some other effects that spread outside the affected area.  For a massive Delta flood, there would be similar impacts: the focus has been on disruption to export water supplies, but there would also be costly disruptions of transportation, energy, and local water systems.

In his speech, Governor Brown declared that his plan to protect the state from a Delta flood is to worry about only one of the secondary interests (water exports) at enormous costs while ignoring the lives, homes and businesses that would be destroyed in the very unlikely but catastrophic flood event in the Delta.

Can you imagine if the Governor of Louisiana or President of the U.S. gave a speech that said that the lesson of Katrina is that we need to move oil refineries out of vulnerable areas around the Gulf without mentioning or offering to help the thousands of people who lost their lives and homes in these events?  Jerry Brown just did the equivalent when discussing a Delta flood, and only showing concern for out-of-area interests in his comments and in his action plan (tunnels).    Where is the backlash?  The media is praising him for his visionary rhetoric while ignoring that his actions/plan show a cruel indifference to whether hundreds or thousands of Californians perish in a catastrophic flood.

In this case, Brown’s speech is not only insensitive but is bad economics.  The state is now sitting on 2 studies that clearly show that seismic levee improvements are cheaper than the tunnels, and provide more economic benefits because seismic levee upgrades protect water exports from interruption, and also provide additional benefits of protecting in-Delta lives and property, and significant non-water energy and transportation infrastructure.


About the Author

Ethan Jacob

Author & Editor

I am Ethan Jacob Executive Director of the Center for Business and Policy Research at the University of the Pacific, where I have a joint faculty appointment in the Eberhardt School of Business and the Public Policy Program in the McGeorge School of Law..

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