...and El Niño could cost billions

Economy suffered in 1997-1998 and 1982-1983

Flood zone map of San Diego
  • Flood zone map of San Diego

A severe El Niño this winter could put a dent in San Diego's economy, according to Vince Vasquez of the National University System Institute for Policy Research.

The 1982–1983 storms caused more than $2 billion in statewide damage, stated in 2015 dollars. In all, 6661 homes and 1330 businesses were damaged or destroyed, 481 state residents were injured, and 36 died.

Comparison of ocean water temperatures in 1997 and 2015

Comparison of ocean water temperatures in 1997 and 2015

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert/L.A. Times

The research group figures that 1.75 percent of the San Diego metro area is vulnerable to water damage from a severe El Niño. There are 54,560 county residents living in 100-year flood zones; they are most vulnerable.

The two industries that could suffer the most are tourism and agriculture. Attendance at theme parks and San Diego Zoo could suffer. In 1998, attendance at SeaWorld San Diego dropped 7 percent due to an El Niño as well as new park attractions.

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While we consider the cost of a wet winter, we should also consider the cost of this drought to date, and what it will cost if it continues. There are trade-offs in everything. Right now it's hard to imagine too much rain in the county. Ahh, but I recall those back-to-back rainy winters of 1977-78 and 1978-79 and the mess they made for many folks here. Both years the rain came too fast in too short a period, and overwhelmed the ability of the land to absorb it. And so we had Mission Valley knee deep in water, and a host of other miseries.

If government has these maps of the flood-prone areas, it should use them to take steps to alleviate flooding. Making sure that flood channels are clear and unobstructed would help, and whatever steps that can be taken to capture the rainfall would be a place to start. But we can only wonder if those maps are used to insure that no more structures are built in flood plains. The developers and landowners in the cities and county are sure to be most unhappy if they are told they cannot develop in some of those spots. And they don't really care if the place ends up underwater after it is built up and sold.

The county could get off easy this year, even if rainfall is double or triple the "normal" amount, if the rain starts early, comes steadily, and ends late in the spring. But we can't expect that, and should be ready for some real deluges.

Visduh: The odds favor some real deluges, as you state. And San Diego will still have to worry about drought. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Indeed, it is ironic. The consensus of weather experts is that the El Nino won't wipe away the drought. Best, Don Bauder

Bill Harris: Those are thoughtful suggestions. Best, Don Bauder

AlexClarke: Agreed: Harris has some excellent suggestions. Best, Don Bauder

Abe Munoz: Or build on them. Best, Don Bauder

As Abe Muñoz points out, if you engineer something stupid, you will have to suffer the consequences. Not only has San Diego built in its riverbeds (Mission "Valley" is no valley, it's a RIVER!) and lined and narrowed artificial channels to facilitate such "engineering" idiocy, making them high-velocity death-traps, it continues to ignore the fact that natural hills and dales and flatlands are prevented from absorbing water by development in the watersheds. There is a widely-known, but just as widely ignored concept in land development called "zero runoff." As are other common-sense alternatives to the central theme of expediency that dominates our relationship with the land and its waters.


PS: That map is a joke!

Twister: I think there is a general consensus among knowledgeable San Diegans that historically, Mission Valley was badly handled. Now it appears that it will continue to be mishandled. Best, Don Bauder

Oy VEY! Mission Valley again!

Where did you find the "knowledgeable" San Diegans? How many? Where were they when Charlie and Roscoe and the others decided that the "highest and best use" for the San Diego riverbed was shopping centers and condos and that farming and grazing were lower and worse uses for the land, not to mention that before that, it was full of free fish for the taking, ducks, deer, etc., a veritable supermarket for us and the other animals?

Twister: The non-knowledgeable San Diegans want to put more shopping centers in Mission Valley. And, of course, an extremely heavily-subsidized football stadium, More condos. Ugh. Best, Don Bauder

And do "knowledgeable San Diegans" now recognize that the runoff coefficient increases with development that does not engineer zero runoff into their projects?

Twister: The knowledgeable ones recognize Mission Valley has been butchered. But wait and see: it will be even more butchered. Best, Don Bauder

"Attendance at theme parks and San Diego Zoo could suffer."

And that's good news for us. Rainy days are the best at the zoo and wild animal park. All those animals that sleep on warm sunny days are up and about and having a great time. The employees who are normally too busy to chat suddenly have time and are eager to talk about their animals while the tourists are staying in their hotel rooms in droves.

San Diego has a vibrant energy on rainy days. Was it the gay pride parade that brought the last downpour? You wouldn't believe all the thousands of exuberant participants and viewers who were unexpectedly soaked to the bone and loving it.

swell: If you ask the people who run the Zoo, rainy days are the worst times, not the best times, because the cash register isn't jingling as much as normally. Best, Don Bauder

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