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History of Flood Control for Sacramento


John 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.


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.


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.


Sacramento Weir completed.


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.


Fremont Weir completed.


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.


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. The system experiences significant levee problems in the Sacramento area.


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 begins construction on levee improvements to protect North Sacramento and Natomas, completed 2001.


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.


SAFCA forms the North Area Local Project Assessment District to fund flood control and related improvements in the North Sacramento and Natomas areas.


Congress does not approve a dam at 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. Sacramento experiences significant levee problems in the Sacramento area.


Work on SAFCA’s North Area Local Project, begun in 1993, progresses to the point where the Corps of Engineers and FEMA certify 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 increasing release capacity at Folsom Dam, raising the lowest levees on the American River, and raising levees along Morrison creek and its tributaries in South Sacramento. Congress also authorized examining a new operation for Folsom Dam flood control based on a forecast informed operation.

Construction of seepage cutoff walls and other levee improvements along Lower American River begins.


Sacramento property owners vote to impose a flood control assessment to finance the local match for the flood control projects for the American River and South Sacramento approved by Congress in 1996 and 1999.


Congress authorizes Raising Folsom Dam to provide additional space to control floods. As part of this, Congress also approves construction of a new bridge downstream of Folsom Dam, modifications of the existing temperature control shutters at Folsom Dam, and downstream improvements for ecosystem restorations at sites along the lower American River.


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. 


Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. The flooding of New Orleans occurred from levee failures. This was a wake-up call for urban areas. The Sacramento area is identified as one of the most at-risk urban areas in the country from riverine flooding.


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


After reviewing levee failures during the 1997 California Central Valley Flood and the 2005 Katrina Flood, new standards for levees protecting urban areas are established to better address levee seepage and stability concerns.


Based on the new levee standards for urban area, the Corps of Engineers determines that the Natomas basin has significantly less than a 100-year level of protection.


With financial assistance from the State of California SAFCA initiates the Natomas Levee Improvement Program to advance reconstructing the Natomas Basin levees while awaiting Congressional authorization for the Corps of Engineers to construct the project.


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. 


Sacramento area property owners within the 200-year floodplain approve a consolidated flood control assessment to finance the local share of the costs for SAFCA’s plan to achieve 200-year flood protection for the region. 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. The new legislation requires that urban areas in the central Valley of California have a system that can safely pass a 200-year flood by 2025.


Congress approves changing the previously authorized modifications to the outlet works at Folsom Dam to construction of a new dam and auxiliary spillway at Folsom Dam.


FEMA maps the Natomas Basin back into the 100-year floodplain based on the Corps of Engineers findings. This imposes some building restrictions and mandatory flood insurance requirements.


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 new dam and a gated auxiliary spillway designed to allow Folsom Dam to safely pass a 200-year flood with of peak flow no greater than 160,000 cfs.


The Folsom Lake Crossing Bridge is completed. The bridge was constructed to remove traffic off the top of Folsom Dam in order to allow for flood control improvements at Folsom Dam.


Natomas Basin property owners approve a Natomas Basin assessment district to raise additional funding to reconstruct the Natomas Basin levees to the new urban standards. This assessment district supplements the existing capital assessment district.


The State of California released the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan which is California’s strategic blueprint to improve flood risk management in the Central Valley.  With the release of the CVFPP, the State also initiated preparation of six regionally-led Regional Flood Management Plans that describe local and regional flood management priorities and challenges. SAFCA participated as part of the Lower Sacramento River/Delta North Region.


SAFCA completes the Natomas Levee Improvement Program, reconstructing 18 miles of levees.


Corps withdraws accreditation of all the levees in Sacramento outside the Natomas Basin because they do not meet new urban levee standards.


Congress authorizes reconstructing 42 miles of levees protecting the Natomas Basin of Sacramento Natomas. The levees are to be reconstructed to meet the new urban levee standards. The authorization includes the work previously completed by SAFCA.


The Lower Sacramento River/Delta North Regional Plan is released. It focused on a geographic area which includes portions of Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, and Sutter Counties. Its goal is to develop the long-term vision for sustainable, integrated flood management in the Region through a collaborative process involving regional stakeholders.


FEMA maps the Natomas Basin into an A99 zone, lifting some of the building restrictions, but not the flood insurance requirements.


Levee work along both sides of the American River to address underseepage and stability issues is complete.


SAFCA entered into agreements with the United Auburn Indian Community identifying procedures, protocols and processes to identify, protect, avoid, monitor, and treat Tribal cultural resources in a culturally appropriate and respectful manner since much of the upcoming levee work would occur in culturally sensitive areas.


Levee and channel work along the tributaries in south Sacramento is complete.


Congress authorizes work on the remaining portion of the levee system protecting Sacramento not covered under previous authorizations to include up to 11 miles of bank and levee erosion protection on the American River, up to 10 miles of bank and levee erosion protection on the Sacramento River, up to 9 miles of slurry cutoff walls to address levee underseepage on the Sacramento River and up to 4 miles of slurry cutoff walls to address levee underseepgae along the eastside tributaries in the north area of Sacramento. The authorization also includes widening the Sacramento Weir and Bypass to allow the system to handle larger flood events. The authorization includes the work previously initiated by SAFCA.


Sacramento area property owners approve a new consolidated flood control assessment to finance the additional work authorized by Congress to increase flood protection for the region. The previously established capital assessment district is dissolved.


The Yolo Bypass and Cache Slough Memorandum of Understanding was executed by 15 agencies (including SAFCA) to serve as the vehicle to promote the discussion, prioritization, and resolution of policy and other issues critical to the success of the various planning efforts In the Yolo Bypass.


The State of California released the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan Update which serves as a long-range plan that guides the State’s participation in managing flood risk in the Central Valley.  


With financial assistance from the State of California SAFCA initiates the North Area Streams Project to advance reconstructing the levees along the eastside tributaries in north Sacramento while awaiting Congressional authorization for the Corps of Engineers to construct the project.


SAFCA presents its Comprehensive Flood Risk Reduction Program for the Sacramento area with the goal of achieving 500-year level of protection. The purpose is to help address potential increased flood risk due to climate change by introducing more resiliency and flexibility in the system.


The new dam and auxiliary spillway constructed as part of the Folsom Dam Joint Federal Project is complete and operational.


The Corps of Engineers initiates reconstruction of the remaining levees protecting the Natomas Basin.


Congress passes the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and $1.8 billion is provided to construct levee and erosion work authorized by Congress in 2016, as well as to widen the Sacramento Weir and Bypass and to raise Folsom Dam by 3.5 feet for additional flood control.


The new Folsom Dam Water Control Manual detailing the new forecast informed flood control operation is executed. This new operation provides significantly more flood risk reduction than the previous operations, as well as benefit other reservoir purposes.


The Corps of Engineers initiates reconstruction of the Sacramento River levees downstream of the mouth of the American River.


The Corps of Engineers initiates construction of the Folsom Dam Raise by working on Dike 8.


After final Federal approvals, SAFCA completes acquisition of a portion of the Sierra Northern Railroad that needs to be moved in order to widen the Sacramento Weir and Bypass.


With financial backing from the State of California SAFCA completes the remediation of the old Bryte Landfill, which needs to be relocated to widen the Sacramento Bypass.


The State of California initiates construction of the Lower Elkhorn Basin Levee Setback Project which includes widening the Sacramento Bypass (part of the Congressionally authorized work) and widening the east side of the Yolo Bypass along the Lower Elkhorn Basin.


SAFCA awards construction contracts for internal drainage and a pump station required for the Lower Elkhorn Basin Levee Setback Project.

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