California Magazine: Waterworld


Lisa Kirk is standing on the superlevee of raised earth known as Delta Coves, gazing at the surreal project she fought for five years. The land is empty but for the dozens of aluminum docks that lead from vacant lots down to the water’s edge. Tiny manmade waterways await future residents. But before they come, the bankrupt project (once owned by Lehman Brothers) will have to find a new buyer.

“There was some hope that this project would bring Bethel Island out of a depressed economy, but so far we’ve just all landed in it together,” says Kirk. At least, she had hoped, the revenues from Delta Coves would help shore up the cracked, seeping levees around the rest of the island. In fact, it’s unlikely they could be made truly safe. A more probable scenario in an earthquake or other natural disaster is that the levees would fail, just as they did in New Orleans. If they do, the future residents of Delta Coves may see themselves, for a very short time, as the lucky ones—safe and dry on a superlevee. But then they’d look around realizing they’re cut off and alone, with everything around them sunk.

“You think that people that live in flood zones would understand that,” Kirk says. “But I think sometimes when you live in a dangerous situation, whether it’s a dysfunctional family or something else, you go into denial in order to exist. I think people go into denial because they do realize the danger that they live in, and it’s just easier to turn away than try to face it.”