Chapter

Necessary but Not Sufficient: Storms, Environmentalism, and New Visions for Flood Control, 1969–2001

Jared Orsi

in Hazardous Metropolis

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780520238503
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520930087 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520238503.003.0007
Necessary but Not Sufficient: Storms, Environmentalism, and New Visions for Flood Control, 1969–2001

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The Los Angeles County Drainage Area (LACDA) lived up to its promise in 1969, preventing damages estimated at more than a billion dollars. As they had done with previous storms, flood controllers assessed the 1969 gale as proof of the structures' success. However, their euphoria had faded by the mid-1980s. In a “LACDA Update” which the Army Corps mass mailed to Los Angeles County residents in September 1987, the corps warned, “Disastrous Flooding Could Return to Los Angeles County.” In a departure from a half century of treating flood control solely as an engineering problem to be dealt with solely by engineers, experts now called for public involvement. This change reflected two decades of political and environmental turmoil. First, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, environmentalists began mounting the first serious political challenge to flood-control engineering since the 1920s. Then in 1978 and 1980, comparatively minor storms produced catastrophic damage, leading engineers to rethink the technical soundness of LACDA. Together, the environmental activism and the renewed flood problems reopened the entire question of flood control for the first time in seven decades and injected nontechnical strategies and public involvement into flood-control planning. Although the old flood-control regime of reengineered rivers and expert bureaucrats by no means collapsed, the political and environmental turmoil after 1969 shook the foundations of the flood-control program that southern Californians had instituted in 1915.

Keywords: flood control; Los Angeles County Drainage Area; southern California; environmental activism; flood control engineering

Chapter.  14221 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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