Friday, March 25, 2011

So THAT'S Why they Made Us Buy Flood Insurance!

I should stop going to lectures about the geology of the Coachella Valley. I don't think they're good for my high blood pressure.

In the last lecture I learned my home is built on an ancient lake bed about 48 feet below sea level. The gigantic lake filled and emptied several times; the native Americans say the last time it emptied was about 600 years ago. You can still see the water lines on the hills, which is kind of fascinating. Or ominous, depending on how you look at it. The lake was 100 miles long, 35 miles wide, and 100-200 feet deep.

Tonight I learned that the site of my present home was 100 feet underwater when prehistoric Lake Cahuilla* was full. (*Not to be confused with the current man-made reservoir of the same name, which is totally wimpy compared to its massive bygone big brother.) The lecturer told us how the Colorado River keeps changing course, altering hundreds of miles of landscape each time. Apparently the Gulf of California at one time extended to Sacramento. At other times, freshwater Lake Cahilla covered this area.

"Could it happen again?" I asked the lecturer.

"Sure. If we have a huge earthquake and the Colorado River reconfigures the delta, we'll have something like the tsunami that just happened in Japan."

Not what I wanted to hear.

My friends remind me that anywhere you live has some sort of natural disaster capability. Theirs is a " can run, but you can't hide" philosophy. Mine is more Chicken Little: Hide! Hide! The water is coming! (Okay, maybe not just yet. We might have 600 years to find good hiding places. But you just never know...)

I think the news footage of the recent Japanese destruction jolted a lot of Southern Californians. We live with constant admonitions to have disaster preparedness kits and be ready to evacuate on a few moments' notice. Sales of five-gallon emergency water bottles are up; so are chemical toilet and tent sales.

I can see the San Andreas fault from my back door and my house is built on sand (despite the Biblical parable.) This isn't the right place for someone who is worried about geologic unrest. And, generally, I'm not--as long as no one points it out to me. I do what most of us Southern Californians do--rush around updating my emergency supplies after an earthquake gets my attention, then settle back into life as usual.

My aunt and uncle bought one of the first houses in our development. They were befuddled by the requirement to buy flood insurance. By the time I bought my home the homeowners had rebelled against the requirement, pointing out to the Homeowners' Association that we live in a desert, as evidenced by the fact that we get six to eight feet of annual evaporation in exposed bodies of water, but only three inches of rainfall.

I guess I won't mention the ancient lake/earthquake-induced-delta-reshaping/tsunami scenario. One Chicken Little in the neighborhood is enough.


:: the monkey pod :: said...

Great post! Love when you post little tidbits about history. p.s. I think it would be cheaper to buy a life jacket... :)

Bemused Boomer said...

Gosh, I hadn't thought of that. Now THAT's what I call innovative thinking!