Brendan Murphy knows that it’s coming.
It could be the massive earthquake that scientists predict could hammer California within the next century or a massive flood caused by multiple levee breaches.
Either way, the Assistant Secretary for the California Emergency Management Agency had no problem telling the Chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees FEMA and a pair of observing congressmen Thursday morning that the next catastrophe involving the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could be just around the corner.
“It will happen – the old saying is that it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when,” he said when addressing Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham Thursday morning in a field hearing at the San Joaquin Council of Governments chambers.
As the Chairman of the Committee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management – which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency and portions of the Department of Homeland Security – Denham asked Congressman Jerry McNerney, who represents Stockton, to sit in on the hearing.
Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster was also invited by Denham to participate.
Murphy was part of a panel that outlined a variety of issues facing the Central Valley and one of its most valuable resources – the Delta – when it comes to preparing for the next disaster situation that may arise.
He was joined by the General Manager of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, a Commissioner from the California Public Utilities Commission, the former Director of Emergency Operations for San Joaquin County and the Assistant Administrator for Response from the Office of Response and Recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But it was another congressman – Walnut Grove’s John Garamendi – that drove one of the most important points of the day home for his three colleagues on the dais.
Garamendi, the former Insurance Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor, was adamant about getting out in front of making the necessary repairs and upgrades to existing levees that he says have far exceeded their life.
“We’re going to pay now or we’re going to pay later – if you pay later it’s going to be a lot more expensive,”
Garamendi said, speaking metaphorically. “The levees are old – they were built for agricultural purposes and were never supposed to handle the kind of pressure that they’ve been subjected to.
“We could have a major breach at one of the islands, and I just want to makes sure that another Katrina doesn’t happen.”
Denham pointed out that House Resolution 2903 – the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2011 – which he sponsored was voted out of committee earlier this year and will be sent to the House for a full vote.
“Levee safety and stability is at the core of preventing floods,” McNerney said. “That not only protects the livelihood of residents in our area but benefits the State Budget as a whole.”