Sacramento Flood Potential?

The title of this article from Capital Public Radio is “Could Sacramento Flood Like New Orleans? It’s Possible, But Water Managers Are Trying To Make It Less Likely.”

It’s a good read, and describes good work, but the Auburn Dam is still the best solution.

An excerpt.

“Three years ago, water began seeping out of yards and pooling in roadways in the Sacramento Pocket neighborhood.

“But the water wasn’t from a recent storm.

“It hadn’t rained for a couple of weeks,” said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency. “This is water coming up through and under the levees into people’s yards. What’s scary about it is that the homes are right there.”

“The Pocket is a neighborhood of around 30,000 people about 10 miles south of downtown, bordered by the Sacramento River on the north, west and south. Standing at a point along the levee, you can see on one side a gated community of one and two story homes and on the left the noticeably higher river. Year-round maintenance and future work are planned in order to protect them, but they’re still at risk.

“The Pocket is somewhere you can see what challenges we have in Sacramento … if it would flood certain areas like this would have a big impact,” said Lon Peterson, the city of Sacramento’s public information officer for the Department of Utilities.

“Weak and problematic levees are a big reason why there was so much destruction when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. It cost Louisiana and Mississippi more than $150 billion dollars and killed more than 1,800 people.

“But could something like this happen in the Sacramento region?

“The possibility led Jeffery Lewis from Folsom to ask CapRadio this question: “Given that we have two rivers going through Sacramento and we have an old levee system can flooding like in New Orleans happen here?”

“Not If, But When

“The answer CapRadio heard from levee experts is yes, Sacramento could see that type of flooding, but there are a lot of things that lower that risk.

“It’s not really a matter if a big flood’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when,” said Nicholas Pinter, associate director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

“But Pinter says a lot of risk of flooding has been engineered away due to new infrastructure like dams. Still, he admits that “every year is a roll of the dice. There is always a possibility of catastrophic flooding. There is a very slight possibility it could overwhelm our defenses.”

“There are more than 1,100 miles of levees — plus weirs, bypasses and Folsom Dam — in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that help protect the region from flooding. It’s an aging system with many levees over a century old.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say it’s “among the most at-risk regions in America for catastrophic flooding … but that system, just like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.”

“The system has flooded with dire consequences. In December 1861, a series of storms called ‘Pineapple Express’ hit the West Coast — they are warm moist storms with potential for lots and lots of rain.

“These storms melted snow in the Sierra Nevada and water flowed down into the Sacramento Valley from the east for more than 40 days. The levees holding back the rivers acted like dams, flooding the city of Sacramento in as much as 30 feet of water in some places. It was so bad that the state legislature moved to San Francisco until the floodwaters dried out.

“Since that megaflood, there have been a lot of smaller floods. A flood in 1986 killed 13 people, breached levees and crushed bridges. In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton met with flood victims and surveyed damage from another flood.

“Then there was the 1997 New Year’s Flood. Rain fell high in the mountains melting snow engorging rivers. Sacramento was spared, but levees in nearby communities broke damaging more than 23,000 homes in Northern California and killing nine people.”

Retrieved January 22, 2020 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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