A major earthquake in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta area poses an existential threat to the long term viability of the entire state of California. How? One word: levees.

The USGS pegs the likelihood of a significant earthquake (6.7+ magnitude) striking Northern California within the next 25 years at over 63%.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the flood risk in Sacramento is greater than that of pre-Katrina New Orleans. The majority of California levees are outdated and in poor repair despite $300 million in recent renovations. Many were built by farmers and settlers 150 years ago on a questionable soil base without the benefit of modern engineering. Most of the levees are not concrete lined and are prone to erosion at their base and will likely turn to jelly and crumble should a significant earthquake hit nearby. Water flowing through these levees provides 80% of the drinking water for Southern California. According to the USGS, should the levees fail, salt water would be sucked from the San Francisco bay into the delta on a massive scale in what scientists have dubbed the Big Gulp, contaminating drinking supplies for 25 million people, destroying some of the nation’s most productive farmland, washing away buildings, highways, gas lines and railroads and causing landslides. California, with the eighth-largest economy in the world, would be economically crippled for years, and in turn would hobble the nation and disrupt global trade.

USGS Seismologist and Seismic Risk Advisor to the City of Los Angeles Dr. Lucy Jones predicts that a 7.0+ earthquake along the southern section of the San Andreas fault will likely rupture the three aqueduct pipelines that transport 80% of Southern California’s water supply from the north, leaving So Cal with only 20% of it’s typical water supply. It will take 18 months to repair the aqueducts. Locally in L.A., water pipelines are ancient, outdated and will likely suffer significant damage in a major quake, further impairing the ability to provide fresh, potable water to residents.

In both scenarios – an earthquake ruptures the Sacramento/San Joaquin levee system or damages the aqueducts carrying water to Southern California, it is quite possible that what happened in New Orleans after Katrina will happen in California – people will move from the state and never return, taking with them vital human and intellectual resources.

A major 6.7+ earthquake in California is a undisputed certainty within the next 25 years. Our federal and state legislators must allocate the funds required to shore up the state’s levee and aqueduct systems. This isn’t just a California issue. With the 8th largest economy in the world at stake, this is a United States issue. Contact your state and federal legislators to let them know this must be addressed. Aside from climate change, this is truly more of a threat to our long term existence than any other foreign or domestic issue.

A good place to start would be contacting U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Rep. Ami Bera (CA-7), Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-6), Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-9) Jim Frazier (D-11)Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-13), Susan Bonilla (D-14), and Mariko Yamada (D-4) to bring this issue to their attention and request legislative action.

The legislative process is a slow one, especially in today’s political climate. So in the meantime while we pursue that path, don’t roll the dice. Make sure you have a MINIMUM of 7 gallons of water per person in your household securely stored (more if you have pets).