Tom Philp, executive strategist for the Metropolitan Water District, is the latest to compare a seismic-induced Delta flood to Katrina.
Katrina is a bad numerical comparison, but the exploitation of the greatest American tragedy since 911 to push his employers' business agenda is offensive. Are Tom Philp and Met comparing dead grass in an LA lawn to Americans dying in the Superdome?
His post emphasizes water supply, and does not mention the potential loss of life or property in the Delta region which is the only loss that is comparable to Katrina (in type not magnitude). The tunnel solution he pushes in the post does nothing to protect against Katrina-type losses (lives or property in the Delta), it would just protect some of the exporters water supply. In fact, the agenda Philp is pushing explicitly recommends letting large chunks of the Delta be lost in Katrina-type floods because fixing the levees is too expensive. While I don't advocate unlimited spending on Delta levees, if there is anyone who has a legitimate case to invoke Katrina to support their Delta cause, it would be the people living in the Delta who want more public investment to upgrade levees.
On to the numbers, Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people, and caused $125 billion in direct property losses. I have read the studies Philp and others reference, and it looks to me like the comparable property damage and fatalities of the big Delta earthquake scenario is about 1-2% of Katrina. It might get to 3-4% if you added in crop losses. It would be a tragedy, but in the low range on this NOAA list of the 96 largest U.S. weather disasters over the past 30 years. A catastrophe for sure, but a manageble one.
Yes, I know the state's study says there could be as much as $40 billion in losses from a Delta earthquake. But that number includes the value of lost services (such as what people are willing to pay to keep their lawns green), estimated multiplier effects from crops not grown, etc. A comparable number for Katrina would include losses for all sorts of business transactions that did not take place as a result, plus multiplier effects. A comparable total from Katrina would easily be in the trillions and still increasing five years later.
In the future, I hope Philp uses more correct and relevant comparisons to California natural disasters. From this chart, the Valley freezes, the 1995 floods, and wildfire outbreaks that occur every few years would be most comparable. The linked chart doesn't include earthquakes, but I believe this Delta quake scenario is a lot less costly than the 1989 and 1995 California earthquakes too, so the freezes and wildfires seem the best comparisons.
At least he used a question mark.