Jan 10, 2017

California Floods Its Fields to Keep Its Cities From Flooding

Sacramento, CA
USA
by
Nick Stockton
,
Wired
Water from the Sacramento River and Sutter Bypass travels over the Fremont Weir, the beginning of the Yolo Bypass, as it heads toward Sacramento. Photo: Randy Pench, The Sacrmaneto Bee
Water from the Sacramento River and Sutter Bypass travels over the Fremont Weir, the beginning of the Yolo Bypass, as it heads toward Sacramento. Photo: Randy Pench, The Sacrmaneto Bee

To see how close California is to being drowned by its recent winter storms, just look to the small crowd of spectators and TV newscasters gathered yesterday on the northwest side of the state capital hoping to watch state water managers open the gates of the Sacramento Weir. The weir, something between a dam and a levee, lets dangerously high water spill over its top into a long, narrow, floodplain filled with rice paddies, grain fields, and other row crops.

Californians pay attention to the weir for three reasons. One: People here are obsessed with water. Two: The thing hasn’t been opened in a decade. Three: Opening the 100-year old piece of infrastructure is a spectacle, requiring a person wielding a long, hooked pole to manually unlatch each of its 48 wooden floodgates. The crowd slept through that spectacle; state workers opened the weir in the dark, early this morning. They can still catch the sight of water thundering over the weir and into the Yolo Bypass, flooding the plain to protect the city of Sacramento.