Sacramento Area Flood History

John SutterJohn Sutter settled in Sacramento: He considered the proximity of two mighty rivers ­ the American and Sacramento ­ a significant benefit to the fledgling settlement.


December 9, 1861 - American River Levee failed east of 30th street, flooding what is now known as River Park.  The water then overran the City's levee built to protect it.  To relieve the building water levels,  the levee at R & 5th Streets was cut to drain the "lake" but houses were swept away in the current in the cut in the levee.

January 10, 1862 - Due to flooding, newly elected Governor Leland Stanford had to travel to his inauguration at the Capital in a rowboat.

Flood of 1861

Sacramento Streets Raised: In response to floods of 1861-1862, streets east of the Sacramento River to about 12th Street were raised as much as 14 feet.

American River Rechannelized: In an effort to create faster flows that might scour out mining debris, Sacramento officials straightened the last two miles of the American River. When the project was completed in 1868, the American joined the Sacramento River about a mile upstream of its old location.

William Hammond Hall First Comprehensive Flood Control Plan: In response to the 1878 flood, State Engineer William Hammond Hall developed an integrated, comprehensive flood control plan for the Sacramento Valley. The plan subsequently came to include a system of levees, weirs and bypass channels to protect existing population centers.

Congress authorizes Sacramento Flood Control System: After a series of violent floods between 1902 and 1909, the Comprehensive flood control project envisioned by Hall gained federal financial authorization in 1917.

Folsom Dam Authorized: The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to build a dam on the lower American River. Completed in 1956, Folsom Dam was originally designed to provide in excess of a 500-year level of flood protection.

Record Flood: Just after ground is broken on Folsom Dam, the American River watershed experiences the first of five record storms.

Folsom Dam Aerial Record Flood: Though engineers had been predicting it would take a year to fill the nearly completed Folsom Dam, the second record storm filled the dam in a week and Sacramento is saved from flooding.

Record Flood: The third record flood in less than 15 years causes engineers to re-evaluate storm frequency. They conclude the storm Folsom is designed to handle is a 120-year storm not a 500-year storm.

Record Flood: The February 1986 storm dumps 10 inches of rain on Sacramento in 11 days. The American River dumps more water into Folsom than it is designed to handle. After 2 days of releases at the design level, (115,000 cubic feet per second (cfs)), officials boost releases to 134,000 cfs. Folsom performance downgraded to about a 60-year storm.

SAFCA SAFCA Formed: In October of 1989, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency holds its first public meeting.

Corps Constructs Sacramento Area Urban Levee Improvements along Sacramento River, Verona to Freeport

Congress Does not Approve a Dam at Auburn: 6 years after the 1986 flood, the Corps of Engineers recommends a flood control dam at Auburn. The project is defeated on the House floor. Levee improvements in North Sacramento and Natomas are approved.

SAFCA Initiates Construction of the North Area Local Project: Following Congress action in 1992, SAFCA certifies an environmental document and begins construction on levee improvements to protect North Sacramento and Natomas, completed 1998.

Folsom Dam Operation Improved: SAFCA and the Bureau of Reclamation execute an agreement to operate Folsom Dam and Reservoir to take advantage of incidental flood control provided by upstream water and power reservoirs at French Meadows, Hellhole, and Union Valley.

Congress Does not Approve Auburn: The Corps of Engineers again recommends a Dam at Auburn. The project is rejected in a House committee. American River levee improvements are authorized.

Record Flood: The fifth record flood in 46 years occurs over the New Year's holiday. Unprecedented flows from rain and melted snow surge into the Feather and the San Joaquin. Sacramento is spared when the fury of the storm hits 40 miles north in the Feather River. Levee failures flood Olivehurst, Arboga, Wilton, Manteca, and Modesto.  

FEMA Certifies Increased flood protection in Natomas and Portions of North Sacramento: Work on SAFCA’s North Area Local Project, begun in 1993, progresses to the point where FEMA certifies that Natomas and portions of North Sacramento have 100-year protection and flood insurance is no longer required.

Congress Approves Significant Sacramento Flood Control Projects: Projects include enlarging outlets at Folsom Dam, Raising the lowest levees on the American River, and raising levees along Morrison creek and its tributaries in South Sacramento. Construction of seepage cutoff walls and other levee improvements along Lower American River begins.


Sacramento Property Owners Approve a flood control assessment for the American River and South Sacramento Streams floodplains: 82 percent of Sacramento property owners vote to impose a new assessment to finance the local match for the flood control projects approved by congress in 1999. 

Improvements to American River levees, including deep under-seepage cutoff walls and erosion protection and operational improvements for Folsom Dam provide 100-year protection for much of the American River Floodplain, except the Pocket and Meadowview communities.  Over 55,000 American River floodplain properties with 100-year flood protection are now eligible to receive lower cost, Preferred-Risk flood insurance policies.

California voters approve Proposition 1E, to finance flood system improvements with $4.1 billion in bonds.

2007 Improvements to Sacramento River levees,  including deep under-seepage cutoff walls and erosion protection, as well as improvements to South Sacramento Streams levees provide 100-year flood protection for the Meadowview and Pocket communities.  Over 26,000 properties are now eligible to receive lower cost, Preferred-Risk flood insurance policies.

Sacramento area property owners, within the 200-year floodplain, approve a consolidated flood control assessment to finance the $326 million local share of the costs for SAFCA’s $2.68 billion plan to achieve 200-year flood protection for the region.  The plan is approved with an 81.8 percent affirmative vote of the affected property owners.  The two previously established capital assessment districts are dissolved.

New State laws enacted to implement better flood management policies and practices, including land use, environmental enhancement, and new flood control facilities.

SAFCA Board approves a Development Impact Fee Program designed to offset the effect of future floodplain development with more flood system improvements.

Construction begins on Folsom Dam Joint Federal Project, with the main feature being a gated auxiliary spillway designed to allow Folsom Dam to safely pass a 200-year flood of 450,000 cubic feet per second peak flow.
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