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Workshop report—Earthquakes and High Water as Levee Hazards in the Delta

Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) | September 30th, 2016

Earthquakes and high water as hazards to Delta levees were reviewed in a seven-hour workshop organized by the Delta Independent Science Board and held at the campus of the University of California, Davis.

Earthquake hazards in the Delta were described in terms of ground motions from Bay Area earthquakes, infrequent earthquake recurrence on faults beneath the Delta, and levee fills prone to earthquake-induced liquefaction. Large uncertainties attend all these seismic elements of levee hazard. Those uncertainties, according to presentations in the workshop, include whether the Delta ground motions previously computed for Bay Area earthquakes were too large.  Hazards from high water were deemed greatest from the confluence of high river discharge, wind-driven surge and waves, and high tides. Major risk assessments have used available data on these hazards without mandates to advance the science.

Research needs and opportunities identified in the workshop include expanded observations of Delta ground motions, improved estimates of geologically recent displacement on faults beneath the Delta, further identification of liquefiable materials and mechanisms beneath levees, continued airborne measurements of land-level change, updated mapping of the contracting area of remaining peat, and fuller documentation of past levee failures. Recurring assessments of earthquake hazards and climate change provide precedents for periodic reappraisal of Delta levee risk.

The workshop brought together different parts of the diverse community of Delta levee specialists. Positive responses to the workshop suggest that it served levee specialists and outsiders alike.


earthquake, flood management, levees, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

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