The "Rising Fear of El Nino" (Feb. 16) bears witness to the rising public interest in flood-control projects that so often follows devastating storms. Unfortunately, the subsequent apathy toward these same flood-control projects is as predictable as the onset of warmer weather.
It is interesting to note that few historical events capture as much headline publicity as flooding phenomena. And yet, if not directly affected by the ravages of flooding, most people will forget the potential destructiveness of the drainage "ditch" that runs through their community.
The people of Orange County were lucky. If the Santa Ana River were to flood to a level that could be reasonably expected, it would cover 110,000 acres an average depth of three feet. It would threaten 3.4 million people and more than 255,000 structures in a three-county area, and it would result in over $15 billion in economic damages and losses. Worst of all, it would likely result in the loss of thousands of lives. (These figures are from the Army Corps of Engineers.)
For this reason, the Army Corps of Engineers, in association with the counties of Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside, has begun construction of the Santa Ana River Mainstream Flood Control Project. Even though construction has begun, the residents within the Santa Ana River flood plain are no more secure against the ravages of a major flood than they were before the start of construction in 1990. And this condition will continue until at least 1997, when the first significant project feature is completed.
Continued funding for this project is critical to its ultimate completion. And it not only depends on annual budget appropriations to the Corps of Engineers on the federal level, but also on the strength of the state's subvention program that reimburses county expenditures for a portion of its share of the project cost. Without the state's reimbursement program, Orange County would not be able to provide its allocated share of the project's cost. This means that the project will likely not be completed unless continued federal and state appropriations are specifically earmarked for this purpose.
IRA MARK ARZT, Irvine