Hurricane’s Katrina, Rita and Wilma are painful reminders of the ruthless destruction that natural events can wreck on crucial infrastructure. Statistically, California is long overdue for another significant earthquake. The impact of a 1906-magnitude earthquake could have catastrophic ramifications for California ’s water purity and deliverability. (It is important to note that California
is not alone in its vulnerability to earthquakes as there have been at least 26 American cities that experienced significant earthquakes and that are at risk for another earthquake.)
In connection with our Profiting from The Water Industry – Tapping a Reservoir of Wealth Conference which will be held in San Francisco on December 1, we have undertaken quite extensive research into the impact of an earthquake in California on the Golden State’s water infrastructure.
We had the opportunity to interview some of the preeminent authorities on California’s vulnerability to earthquakes and on California’s water systems. These interviewees included Dr. Lucile M. Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey; Arthur G. Baggett, former Chairman and member of the California State Water Resources Control Board; Zane O. Gresham, Partner at Morrison & Foerster; and, Tony Irons, Deputy General Manager of Infrastructure at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
Among the insights elicited from these interviews are the following:
- Because Southern Californiahas over 300 faults vulnerable to earthquakes, that region has about half of the nation's risk from earthquakes. The entire coast of Californiais really made up of a braid of earthquake faults, so there is risk all the way from San Diegoin the south to Crescent Cityin the north.
California averages, at least, one magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake every three years. So, the probability that California will have another significant earthquake within five years is between 80% or 90%. California is overdue for another major earthquake as it is rare that there is a five-year period without a magnitude 6.0 earthquake. The last one we had was a magnitude 7.1 in 1999.
- A 1906-magnitude earthquake happens about once every 200 years on average. One can not say it's been 100 years, we still have 100 years to go. It is a long-term average. Silicon Valleycould be paralyzed by such an earthquake.
- All major aqueducts (the California Aqueduct, the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the Colorado Aqueduct) cross the San Andreas Fault. So, when a major earthquake happens, every one of those aqueducts is going to be offset by 20 feet to 30 feet due to earthquake slipping.
- Coupling earthquakes with floods, the levy system would have by far the greatest single impact because of where the federal and state projects are pumping water out of the delta. And if there were massive flooding barriers, the salt water would be intruding all the way into those pumps.
The consequences of there being catastrophic failure of the water system serving the San Francisco Bay Area are enormous because at present, if there was a major earthquake that severed the only transmission line that serves the Bay Area, it could result in at least two million people having no water for well over a month. Estimates indicate that this transmission line could remain out of service for up to 60 days and the economic impact would be in the range of $28 billion.
One of the most serious problems lies on the water sewage treatment side. Electricity outages after an earthquake could both prevent the treatment and delivery of drinking water even if the pipes are intact and also will prevent the treatment of wastewater before it is discharged. According to a study that was completed just after the 1989 earthquake, about 20 million gallons of raw sewage simply had to be released into the Oakland estuary in the six-hour period after the earthquake because of a lack of electricity. That of course could happen in Los Angeles at their enormous Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant or even in San Diego or similar types of facilities.
Earthquake preparedness has taken a bit of a backseat because the same emergency managers that are needed to respond to earthquakes are also responding to the terrorism threats.
These are some of the issues that will be addressed at IncreMental Advantage's Profiting in
the Water Industry Conference which will take place in New York City on June 6. Further
information can be obtained at www.incrementaladvantage.com/conferences or by
contacting Neomi Barazani at firstname.lastname@example.org.