Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.
Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.

“Access” at the University of California just got a whole lot more complicated. Due to outdated and insufficient draining systems, UC Santa Cruz students find themselves stuck in the mud trying to get to classes.

Flooding at UCSC and within the city of Santa Cruz poses a threat, both to students’ ability to be educated and the safety of campus and community members.

After three residential rooms and the lobby of a Stevenson College dormitory building flooded during a recent onslaught of showers, it has become clear that the outdated drainage systems are not only incovenient but reckless.

Santa Cruz has a history of dangerous and damaging local flooding. In 1955, torrential rains poured all over the county. High waters teemed out of the San Lorenzo River and into downtown Santa Cruz, flooding 400 acres and killing eight people. The floods also did $10 million worth of damage.

The levees installed a few years later in 1958 have made flooding less of a problem, but rains in 1982 still caused massive landslides in the Santa Cruz Mountains and water levels almost surpassed the levees downtown.

El Niño, the quasi-periodic weather phenomenon which hits every three to seven years, is characterized by flooding and meterological disturbances. The 1958 levees were barely sufficient 20 years ago — it is not unreasonable to question their present capacity.

With more torrential downpours on the way, Santa Cruz needs to brace itself for the storm. The cost of improving city levees and drainage might be high, but the price is minor compared with that of repairing our infrastructure afterward.

The flooded Stevenson dorm rooms show that flooding is far too low on UCSC’s list of priorities. Students are being pushed from their rooms despite high rent rates (over $10,000 a year). And they are being stranded as they hike to class over rushing streams that intercept the roads and paved paths. Drainage systems must be improved and efforts need to be made to cut flooding.

Both in the city and on campus, flooding produces obvious safety concerns. As people drive and bike down city streets that don’t drain properly, there is an increased risk of accident and injury. And as students cross courtyards that resemble ponds more than gathering places, they are at risk to fall and hurt themselves.

Streets and sidewalks must function properly in order to benefit a properly functioning society. People need to feel safe and comfortable as they commute to work, go to class or meet up with friends. People need to trust that their basic infrastructure, their streets and pathways will serve them well. Our society depends on it.

With Santa Cruz’s history of flooding, it is clear that both the campus and the city need to prioritize efforts to mitigate local water troubles.

The downpours are continuing, and more can be expected. But it doesn’t mean we should accept it. It means we have to prepare.