America's Most Vulnerable Places: The Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (Northern California)
Bea believes the 1,100 miles of California's delta could be the next disaster waiting to happen. "In terms of damage, deaths, and longer-term cost," he has said, "it would be far more destructive than what happened in Hurricane Katrina."
The 150-year-old levee system protecting the delta from the San Francisco Bay is decrepit and leaking. An earthquake, or even a strong storm, could breach the levees, causing a massive disaster.
The rivers and waterways of the delta provide potable water to two-thirds of the state and irrigate 7 million acres of farmland, which raise nearly half the country's fruits and vegetables.
"If the levees fail, the delta will suck in the saltwater from the bay," says Bea. Unfortunately, in 2010, a $750 million levee modernization plan was shelved, and the state agency in charge of protecting the delta has a $6 billion budget shortfall.