Document Details

Factors and Processes Affecting Delta Levee System Vulnerability

Paolo Zimmaro, Jonathan P. Stewart, Cathleen E. Jones, Steven J. Deverel, Scott J. Brandenberg, Sandra Bachand | December 1, 2016
Summary

The authors appraised factors and processes related to human activities and high water, subsidence, and seismicity. Farming and drainage of peat soils over time has caused a gradual sinking which contributed to internal levee failures. Although these subsidence rates have decreased with time, they still contribute to levee instability. Additional data is needed to assess spatial and temporal effects of subsidence caused by peat thinning and deformation. Since the mid-1970s large-scale, State investments in levee upgrades have increased conformance, however accounts continue to conflict on how these investments correspond to the numbers of failures.

Both modeling and history suggest that the projected increases of high-flow frequency associated with climate change will increase levee-failures rates. Quantification of this increased threat requires further research. A reappraisal of seismic threats resulted in updated ground motion estimates for multiple faults and earthquake occurrence frequencies. The immediate seismic threat, liquefaction, is the sudden loss of strength due to an increase in the pressure of the pore fluid and corresponding loss of contact forces. However, levees damaged during an earthquake that do not immediately fail, may eventually breach.

Consequences for future levee failure are estimated to cost up to billions of dollars. The analysis of future risks will benefit from more detailed descriptions of levee strength and upgrades, consideration of subsidence, climate change, and earthquake threats. Ecosystem benefits of levee habitats in this highly altered system are thin. Better recognition and coordination is needed among the creation of high value habitats, levee needs, costs, benefits of levee improvements, and breaches.

 

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The authors appraised factors and processes related to human activities and high water, subsidence, and seismicity. Farming and drainage of peat soils over time has caused a gradual sinking which contributed to internal levee failures. Although these subsidence rates have decreased with time, they still contribute to levee instability. Additional data is needed to assess spatial and temporal effects of subsidence caused by peat thinning and deformation. Since the mid-1970s large-scale, State investments in levee upgrades have increased conformance, however accounts continue to conflict on how these investments correspond to the numbers of failures.

Both modeling and history suggest that the projected increases of high-flow frequency associated with climate change will increase levee-failures rates. Quantification of this increased threat requires further research. A reappraisal of seismic threats resulted in updated ground motion estimates for multiple faults and earthquake occurrence frequencies. The immediate seismic threat, liquefaction, is the sudden loss of strength due to an increase in the pressure of the pore fluid and corresponding loss of contact forces. However, levees damaged during an earthquake that do not immediately fail, may eventually breach.

Consequences for future levee failure are estimated to cost up to billions of dollars. The analysis of future risks will benefit from more detailed descriptions of levee strength and upgrades, consideration of subsidence, climate change, and earthquake threats. Ecosystem benefits of levee habitats in this highly altered system are thin. Better recognition and coordination is needed among the creation of high value habitats, levee needs, costs, benefits of levee improvements, and breaches.

 

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Keywords:

climate change, compaction, earthquake, flood management, floodplain restoration, levees, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, sea level rise, subsidence