Archive for the ‘oakland hazards’ Category

Loma Prieta plus 25

17 October 2014

Yesterday I attended the Loma Prieta 25 Symposium at the Kaiser Center. It was a quake geek’s Woodstock, where a motley host of experts got together to schmooze, celebrate 25 years of progress since the 1989 earthquake, and look ahead. At 10:16 a.m., along with 27 million other people around the world, we participated in the ShakeOut drill.

dropcoverhold

Since the Loma Prieta earthquake, Caltrans has finished reinforcing all of the state’s freeway overpasses, EBMUD and Hetch Hetchy have strengthened their principal water mains where they cross the Hayward fault, BART has strengthened its tracks and stations, and PG&E has made huge changes to make the power and gas system more robust. The airports and ports have been upgraded. The big bridges have been fixed or replaced (with only the Golden Gate Bridge upgrade to go).

The work done since Loma Prieta has also made governments work better. The mayor of Napa, Jill Techel, had high praise for the city, county and state emergency service agencies. She said PG&E did a wonderful job during the August earthquake. The federal agency FEMA was on top of things too. And the regional authority ABAG, the main sponsor of the symposium, was charged with energy and ideas to piggyback on the public awareness that followed the Napa quake.

Magnitude-6 events like the Napa earthquake will happen 10 times as often as the “big ones” we’re warned against. Even if the big ones will surely overwhelm some aspect of our preparations, the mitigation and preparedness in place can work wonders with the smaller events like the Napa quake.

The next steps that the experts laid out, the things they want done by Loma Prieta 50, involve increasing the Bay area’s resilience to disasters. Resilience means that people will not just avoid death and injury from a major earthquake, they’ll stay in their homes and return to their jobs quickly. The work of upgrading the infrastructure needs to move beyond the backbones to the limbs and arteries: neighborhood water and gas lines, smaller bridges, individual privately owned buildings. Oakland is ready to begin a program aimed at some 1800 soft-story residences in the city. The state’s earthquake insurance chief and the state senator heading the Insurance Committee were there to describe the advances they want to make in 2015. Progress works this way: inch by inch and year by year.

Oakland Harbor will save the nation when the Big One hits

3 September 2014

harborcranes

I’m attending the Third International Conference on Earthquake Early Warning, which is happening at UC Berkeley through Friday. It’s a lively gathering of specialists and officials from earthquake country all over the world. What’s galvanizing everybody is the possibility of dramatic progress in California, now that the government has passed a law that establishes a statewide early-warning system modeled on ShakeAlert, which has been quietly beta testing for more than two years.

It came up during discussion today that the West Coast has five of America’s largest seaports, and a major earthquake that disables one or more of them will affect not just the nation’s, but the entire world’s economy. OK: the West Coast has three areas that produce major earthquakes. Ours, the Bay area’s part of the San Andreas fault complex, is the least of them. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake (M 7.8) and the similarly large 1868 Hayward quake? Those are our signature quakes, and we’re third on the list. Southern California is capable of larger ones (M 8), and Cascadia, which reaches from Cape Mendocino up past the Canadian border, produces the largest quakes by far (M 9).

A Big One that knocks out Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors will not affect Oakland. Neither will the Monster One that disables Seattle, Tacoma and Portland. Oakland Harbor will be the backup port of call after either of those events. And of course they’ll share the load if we’re out of action.

harbordolphin

In any case, Oakland Harbor is a natural facility for using an early-alert system. So is Oakland Airport—imagine an alert coming in to the control tower that strong shaking will arrive in 20 seconds. This is exactly the kind of rapid decision-making information that the airline community is trained to respond to already. I foresee our airport and our port being early early-warning adopters. BART is already part of the ShakeAlert beta testing network. Watch those guys.

Our slides

26 March 2014

A large, deadly landslide in northern Washington has been making news. Smaller ones around here aren’t deadly, thank goodness, but they are sneaky and expensive and everywhere.

slidescarp

This isn’t a landslide yet, but these concentric cracks in Skyline Boulevard are typical signs of slumping ground. A city with more money to maintain streets would have dribbled tar over these cracks when they first appeared, a year or two ago. As it is, each crack lets rainwater into the hillside where it promotes more slumping. Keeping the road sealed will buy a few years’ time.

This location is underlain by the same incompetent Sobrante Formation that gave the Caldecott Tunnel builders such trouble. But landslides occur in Oakland on nearly every geologic unit, from the lower streambanks to the highest hills.

The Kitchener scarp

30 November 2013

The recent walk by the Oakland Urban Paths group took us past a catastrophe I hadn’t seen before: the landslide of 15 January 1970. It removed nearly all the homes on the east side of Kitchener Court, just south of the LDS Temple, and dumped the ground into the valley of upper Peralta Creek. The land is still empty and uninhabitable. Here’s a look south over the scarp from Kitchener.

kitchenerscarp

The slide wiped out the middle of London Road between a tiny stub at the top of Maple Street and the forlorn end trailing off of Maiden Lane. The Hayward fault is mapped right through the foot of the slide. The site of my photo is across the pink strip opposite the “J” on this portion of the Oakland geologic map.

kitchenergeomap

I frankly can’t vouch for any of the bedrock divisions shown here, but the dashed line of the fault is close enough to reality. For orientation, here’s the equivalent area in Google Maps. Rettig canyon, where Peralta Creek cuts through the bedrock ridge of Leona keratophyre (pink) and mixed Franciscan rocks (KJf), is in the patch of green at lower center.

kitchenergoogmap

Pinehaven canyon

4 July 2013

The headwaters of Temescal Creek lie east of route 13 in a steep canyon that has no name on the USGS topo map, so I will feel free to name it Thornhill canyon. The canyon splits at the site of Thornhill Nursery, with Pinehaven Road heading left up its own canyon and Thornhill heading right.

pinehavencynterrain

Pinehaven canyon is heavily wooded with a lot of eucalyptus and is almost entirely underlain by the crumbly Sobrante Formation. It’s a beautiful place, with a nice running stream that helps keep Lake Temescal full.

pinehavencrop

Whenever I visit the high hills I can’t help but think of its hazards, so different from those down below. The risks of landslide and fire, even in the absence of earthquakes, are compounded by the narrow, winding roads as we all know from the 1991 hills fire. Pinehaven canyon has not burned since it was settled, although the 1937 fire came close. Its firefighters are served by a couple of large water tanks, the Swainland tank at the top of Fairlane Drive and another tank above Skyline at the top of Broadway Terrace. If these run dry, a pumping truck is supposed to go halfway up Pinehaven to a spot where the next lower water system can be tapped to replenish the high system.

pinehavenfiresign

Central Reservoir

8 April 2013

Central Reservoir is operated by EBMUD, but it’s much older. It’s the weird-looking steel-covered field north of Sausal Creek. This is a view looking over the reservoir from Ardley Avenue toward the hills.

centralrestop

That’s the Altenheim on the left, across I-580, and of course the LDS temple with Redwood Peak behind it.

The reservoir was built in 1910 by the People’s Water Company, which took the existing valley of a Sausal Creek tributary, hollowed out the top of its watershed and made an earthen dam. Later EBMUD assumed control of it and upgraded things considerably. However, landslides plagued the steep west bank of Sausal Creek directly east of the reservoir starting in the 1930s.

The latest set of slides, in 2006, led to a tangle of lawsuits initially aimed at EBMUD and blaming leakage from the reservoir. The lawsuits were consolidated and went to a jury trial in 2012, with Alameda County as the main defendant and the damaged land owners (two homeowners and a church) as the remaining plaintiffs. The jury found for the County. None of the media that announced the lawsuit bothered to report the outcome, and the City of Oakland hasn’t bothered to clear EBMUD’s name, but the jury dispensed justice as designed.

For 17 MB of geotechnical detail, see EBMUD’s Central Reservoir Seismic Final Report, issued in 2008. As far as engineers can tell, even the Big One on the Hayward fault won’t break the dam. But if I lived downstream, I’d keep a close eye on the dam after a truly major quake and be ready to relocate. And in the aftermath, that emergency water supply may save our lives.

Headwater landscaping

26 March 2013

The advantage of living in the highest hills is that there’s no one upstream from you. At the same time, hilltop dwellers may find it easy to forget what it’s like downstream.

gravelwash

This lot sits at the head of a stream valley at the edge of a regional park. The large expanse of impermeable pavement collects rainwater, and the terrace above it discharges more runoff in a large drainpipe. Ordinarily the ground would absorb most of the water and release it gradually, the way that trees are used to. Instead the flow that results here is strong enough to carry away a lot of gravel. Oh well, call in another truckload.

Turn around and track that water and gravel over the property line into the Regional Open Space. With the extra water, the stream is already cutting a deeper channel into its valley. As the years go by, the valley walls will slump into the stream and the trees will fall with them. A big wad of sediment now working its way downstream will clog the habitat below, smothering the bottomland and its ecosystem. Meanwhile the erosion of the stream valley will work its way headward. Eventually, within a lifetime, the spreading collapse will reach the edge of this large lot (and the neighbors’ lots) and whoever owns it will have an expensive problem. This pristine street may disappear from the map, like others before it in the Oakland hills.

I’m not giving a professional opinion here; it’s obvious to common sense. The landscape of the hills is fragile, but expert advice can make living there much more sustainable.


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