Who deserves a levee? The fight to save California communities from flooding

March 19, 2023

The Mercury News

In this recent article from The Mercury News, Downey Brand partner and water law attorney Scott Shapiro comments on California flood levee funding. The article discusses California’s current levee system infrastructure, how funding is granted for levee systems, and the struggles smaller communities face in acquiring funding for flood control projects.

“The federal government has lots and lots of regions in need, and limited resources. It has to decide how to spend those resources in a way that’s fair,” said flood expert Scott Shapiro of the Sacramento law firm Downey Brand, who serves as general counsel for the California Central Valley Flood Control Association.

To win funding, a town must prove that for every dollar spent on the project, there is at least a dollar of benefit. While the impacts of six factors — healthy and resilient ecosystems; sustainable economic development; floodplains; public safety; environmental justice; and watershed — are weighed, a community’s economic value weighs heavily, because it is easy to measure and compare projects, he said.

“The methodology measures: ‘How much is it going to cost? And how much are we going to save?’ ” said Shapiro.

This cost-benefit approach is much more equitable than the historic tradition of “earmarking” funds, where powerful members of Congress steered money to their pet projects. But it unintentionally biases investment toward areas with high property values, at the expense of disadvantaged communities, he said.

Access a PDF of the full article here.