Pajaro: The look of floods to come soon

The Pajaro levee break was no surprise and officials know it was weak and vulnerable to high, fast water flows. 

In California, there are more than 14,000 miles of urban and rural levees. They protect dry land, cities, towns, homes, businesses, farms and public property from floods. Levees also convey two-thirds of California's drinking water. 

"On average, they are 57 years old and many of them were built using standards that were much less rigorous than are current building practices," said UC Irvine Climate and Flood Scientist Amir AghaKouchak.

Levees protecting critical infrastructure and population centers have been improved, but that is only some levees. 

"By and large, the thousands of miles of levees we have in California are mounds of dirt," said Julie Rentner of River Partners.

Right now, Delta waters are high and will remain so through the snow melt, forcing Pajaro residents to put their homes on stilts. However, not all homes are up on stilts and these homes are at risk of becoming submerged.

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The long droughts cause mini cracks in levee walls that swift or high running water can erode. Rodents also often burrow into them causing seepage and erosive leaks. 

"We're not doing enough. Lack of maintenance is one of the biggest issues in my opinion," said AghaKouchak.

More extreme weather, such as high temperatures and continuing droughts, make matters worse. 

"The hydrology is changing dramatically, faster than we can respond as a state and as a large economy, said Rentner. "We should be expecting to see rural levee failures in a lot of places around California in the coming months or two."

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Made brittle by drought, and now eroded and high-pressure flows, what else could go wrong? 

"Future earthquake can cause actual collapse and failure," said AghaKouchak.

Airports, including Bay Area airports, are already building fortress wall levees because sea levels could rise and airliners are just not seaplanes.