Accomplishments of the Deer Creek Struggle
In spite of this dispiriting turn of events, CURE's Deer Creek campaign did result in some substantial accomplishments. CURE can legitimately claim credit for playing a leading role in raising public awareness in California about the safety hazards and environmental risks of building homes, schools and businesses in or near mountainside alluvial fans and flood basins.
The Deer Creek campaign led by CURE clearly created a stir, and the ripples surging outward from Rancho Cucamonga were powerful enough to hit Washington D.C. and circle back to Sacramento. Several national papers including the Wall Street Journal picked up and reported on the story, thereby attracting the attention of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. The Senators heard the alarms sounded by CURE and its allies - and took them quite seriously. They urged the Army Corps of Engineers to take a second look at its Deer Creek flood control project.
In early 2001, after the Army Corps refused to conduct a reassessment, Boxer and Feinstein decided to intervene directly, asking the State of California to take action on Deer Creek. After prolonged pressure from the Senators, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) formed a state technical review committee on Deer Creek, charging it with determining whether the debris basin built by the Army Corps of Engineers, in fact, had the capacity to handle a flood of major proportions (i.e., a "100-year flood," in the language of flood control engineers).
A 2002 report by the Center for Governmental Studies entitled Alluvial Amnesia: How Officials Imperil Communities by Downplaying Flood Risks, concluded that CURE's founder and president, Malissa McKeith, played a significant role in exposing a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the government officials involved in key decisions concerning the housing development.
In addition, in a report issued in June 2002, the DWR acknowledged that the debris basin's capacity was substantially deficient and therefore that "flood and debris volume from a 100-year flood will exceed the current level of protection" for the cities of Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario.
Unfortunately, despite CURE's efforts to obtain an injunction until reports were finalized, the Deer Creek levee was graded before the DWR released its report. Had the Army Corps not refused review, or had the state reached its conclusions about the debris basin's inadequancy a year or two earlier, the levee could have been saved. The housing development could have been stopped. And local education officials might have been forced to scrap their plans to build new schools just a mile below the debris basin.
CURE's campaign, however, did lead to Governor Schwarzenegger convening the California Flood Plain Management Task Force, which visited the Deer Creek debris basin and other vulnerable floodplains at the base of Southern California's mountains, and concluded that integrated flood management needs to include not only structural improvements, but also open-space buffer zones.
In 2003, a deadly mudslide not far from Deer Creek spurred the creation of the first-ever statewide Alluvial Fan Task Force, which is still in operation today.
Though CURE worked diligently to save the levee and protect the public, thousands of new homes were built under debris basins. Only when the economic downturn came in 2008 did construction stop. No improvements whatsoever were made to the flood control infrastructure; and no additional safeguards or disclosure requirements were put into place to protect and inform homebuyers and homeowners.