California would not exist as it does today were it not for the
extensive system of levees, weirs and flood bypasses that have
been built through the years, particularly in the Sacramento-San
Ariel Rubissow Okamoto, the editor in chief of Estuary Magazine
and long-time Bay Area science writer, talks about the
resiliency of the largest estuary on the West Coast, the
challenges facing the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, and the
potential impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on the
San Francisco Bay.
California’s rivers and streams have experienced enormous
changes over the past 150 years, and a warming climate brings
new challenges. We talked to Ted Grantham—a river scientist at
UC Berkeley and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center
research network—about the state of the state’s rivers.
The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal PLOS
One, documented dramatic decreases in wetland habitat around
San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and
nearly 450 other bays, lagoons, river deltas and coastal creek
mouths throughout the West.
With the last drought in the rearview and the next one
inevitable, the damaging run on groundwater has state water
agencies and lawmakers mulling whether to spend hundreds of
millions to patch up a federally owned canal. But critics say
doing so would amount to a clear bailout for the state’s
Marin residents living in the Ross Valley will see a 3%
increase in the annual stormwater drainage fee to finance flood
control projects. … Following the 3% increase, homeowners
will be paying $149.28 annually. The Ross Valley has been
dogged by flooding over the past century.
Rep. Josh Harder has focused much of his first year in office
on local issues such as water storage and the effects of almond
tariffs on Central Valley farmers. Now he is training his
attention on the nutria, a semi-aquatic rodent that has drawn
the ire of environmentalists, farmers and local officials
San Joaquin County has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court asking
the state Department of Water Resources to abide by local
drilling permit requirements to protect wildlife and water
quality in accordance with California law.
California’s biggest river—the Sacramento—needs a lot of room
to spread in big water years. A floodplain project called the
Yolo Bypass allows it to flood naturally, while also providing
habitat for waterbirds, fish, and other aquatic species. We
talked to Ted Sommer, lead scientist for the Department of
Water Resources (DWR), about this versatile landscape.
Sacramento remains one of the two most flood-prone cities in
the nation along with New Orleans, according to experts. Now
the River City faces a new water threat: homeless people
setting up camp on—and digging into—the 1,100 miles of earthen
levees that Sacramento and surrounding areas count on to
protect them from devastation.
Most people would not associate flood insurance with the
protection of endangered species. But over the past decade, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been the target
of multiple lawsuits alleging that the agency has violated the
Endangered Species Act by not considering the impacts of its
flood insurance program on endangered species and their
California is overdue for a mega-storm capable of drowning
coastal areas in 20ft (6m) of water at any moment. Experts are
preparing contingencies for wet weather so extreme it might
tear open a 300-mile-wide ocean across the US West coast. …
The devastation of such flooding could match the severity of
“big San Andreas earthquakes”, according to the USGS.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is arguably the most
extensively studied and monitored ecosystem in the world. This
has generated mountains of data on everything from the
locations of the smallest fish to the water quality conditions
of the largest reservoir. Knowing where to access the most
up-to-date information can be a real challenge, but fortunately
several online dashboards can help
The community wanted to create flood relief for the people of
Hamilton City; The Nature Conservancy wanted to find a way to
restore native habitat. Area farmers wanted to reduce damages
from flows that scoured their property along the edge of the
river. The Hamilton City Flood Damage Reduction and Ecosystem
Restoration project was able to address these problems with one
River towns can start by restricting floodplain development so
that people and property will not be in harm’s way. This will
create space for rivers to spill over in flood season, reducing
risks downstream. Proposals to raise and improve levees should
be required to take climate change and related flooding risks
A growing menace in the form of 15-pound swamp rodents is
threatening Delta waterways, and the state is throwing money,
hunting dogs and birth control at the invasive pests which have
the potential to destroy crops and wetlands.
While elected officials in Sacramento work to secure funding to
ensure that the levees along the San Joaquin River are
reinforced to be able to withstand a 200-year flood, the City
of Lathrop has been performing the work necessary to continue
development within the floodplain while that work is completed.
… The city has received financial backing from a number of
developers that don’t want to see development stop until the
costly repairs are mad.
In order to address the impacts of climate change on the
state’s water resources, the Department of Water Resources
(DWR) has been developing its own comprehensive Climate Action
Plan to guide how DWR is and will continue to address climate
change for programs, projects, and activities over which it has
Although flooding hasn’t occurred in Clarksburg since the
construction of the levee system in the early 1900s, the
community is considered a moderate to high hazard flood area,
according to a county report. For that reason, a flood risk
reduction feasibility study has been prepared for the town
similar to those conducted for Yolo and Knights Landing with
funds from the California Department of Water Resources.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today was
awarded $8.5 million in funding over three years by the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy to expand its nutria
A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Wednesday to block the
Federal Emergency Management Agency from moving forward with
its plans to offer flood insurance to developers and property
owners in 100-year flood zones in California, finding that the
agency failed to consider effects development might have on
endangered wildlife in those areas.
When people think of natural disasters in California, they
usually think of earthquakes, drought or wildfire. But the
worst disaster to ever hit the Golden State was the Great Flood
of 1862. When people of European descent first arrived in
California, the native people told them tales of great deluges
in which the rivers overran their banks and large areas of land
were inundated. The newcomers paid little heed to these
stories, and often settled in low-lying areas with easy access
to water sources.
In response to a story that aired Thursday night on CBS13, the
City of Sacramento is now responding and creating a task force
to combat a growing public safety concern. Homeless campers are
carving into levees that protect Sacramento from flooding, a
break in the levee could be devastating.
Failing power lines and crumbling roads are just some of the
major issues highlighted in the American Society of Civil
Engineers’ 2019 report card. It’s an analysis that comes out
every six years, grading 17 different areas of infrastructure
including waterways, aviation and schools.
For centuries, the Delta was a dynamic and rich ecosystem of
tidal wetlands, riparian forests, and vast seasonal
floodplains. But about 98 percent of the native habitat
disappeared after the Gold Rush and a population boom across
the Golden State.
The latest declaration will provide aid to local governments
from the state’s Office of Emergency Services and directs
Caltrans to request federal assistance. In addition to Santa
Cruz County, the declaration will affect Butte, Colusa, Del
Norte, Mariposa, Napa, Solano and Tuolumne counties.
It’s not clear how much water this year’s snowpack will
produce, but the record snowpack in 2017 produced about one
million acre feet of water. That’s too much for a funnel only
about one-third that size. That means that water managers have
to figure out where to put the excess water as it melts off the
mountains. And the problem becomes potentially worse if a warm
streak hits and melts the snow fast
For the millions of Californians who live and work far from the
Delta, it can be easy to overlook the splendor of the largest
estuary in western North America. Whether you are one mile or
hundreds of miles from the Delta, however, all Californians
have a stake in the survival and preservation of this fragile,
dynamic ecosystem that is also the keystone of the state’s
water supply system.
Chris Orrock of the California Department of Water Resources
joins the podcast to chat with John Howard and Tim Foster about
what this wealth of snow means for California’s water reserves
and flood dangers, and the implications for wildfires later in
In an era of high population growth and sprawling urban and
wildland development, fire and flood disaster officials have to
plan in advance for post-fire problems… One strategy
California and Colorado are working on is to build political
alliances that combine forestry, water and land issues so that
lawmakers at the state and even the federal level are provided
with a more powerful, holistic view of the problems.
It worked. Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway reopened
for business Tuesday morning, releasing a gentle sheet of water
into the Feather River for the first time since the 2017 crisis
that sent 188,000 people fleeing for their lives. … It was a
far cry from the scene two years ago, when the massive sinkhole
in the spillway turned water releases into an angry, boiling
California received some good news on Tuesday for the state’s
water supply: The Sierra Nevada snowpack is well above normal,
at 162 percent of average. This amount of snow is thanks to the
more than 30 “atmospheric rivers” that brought storms this
winter and spring. Chris Orrock, with the California Department
of Water Resources, says … this is the fourth largest amount
of snow in recorded history.
Five months after voters approved a bond measure to protect the
waterfront from earthquakes and flooding from sea-level rise,
San Francisco plans to start using the first batch of funds.
Next week, The City is expected to introduce to the Board of
Supervisors for approval a proposal to use $50 million of the
$425 million Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety general
obligation bond approved by more than 80 percent of the voters
One month after destructive flooding tore through Sonoma
County, residents are waiting for the state to decide if it
will ask the federal government for a disaster declaration — a
move that they say can bring them much-needed financial aid.
This may be the bleakest shoreline in the Bay Area, and it
isn’t just the industrial infrastructure that gives character
to this place. Floating trash has collected along the docks,
and the waters are contaminated by the loading and unloading of
vast amounts of fossil fuels. A sign posted to a piling warns
fishers not to eat anything they catch here.
On our Bay-Delta Tour June 5-7, participants will hear from a
diverse group of experts including water managers,
environmentalists, farmers, engineers and scientists who will
offer various perspectives on a proposed tunnel project that
would carry water beneath the Delta, efforts to revitalize the
Delta and risks that threaten its delicate ecological balance.
Any new path on California water must bring Delta community and
fishing interests to the table. We have solutions to offer. We
live with the impacts of state water management decisions from
loss of recreation to degradation of water quality to
collapsing fisheries. For example, how can new and improved
technology be employed to track real time management of
A “landmark” initiative aimed at restoring Carmel River
floodplain habitat and helping reduce flood risks for homes and
businesses along the lower part of the river and lagoon has
reached a key phase with the release of its environmental
Chinook spawned here historically, but in 1957 Putah Creek was
dammed near Winters to divert water for Solano County. After
that, hardly any salmon made their way up the creek. Then a
lawsuit in the 1990s — and resulting restoration project —
finally gave the fish what they needed to return after all
Climate advocates say an overhaul of the nation’s flood
insurance program being unveiled by the Trump administration
will spur communities around the country to better plan for
extreme weather, but could drive up costs for some homeowners.
… It will tie premiums to the actual flood risk facing
individual homes nationwide starting in October 2020. The
current system sets prices based largely on whether a home is
inside or outside of the 100-year flood plain.
FEMA said that a wide range of pre-existing problems
contributed to the deterioration of both the upper and lower
sections of the massive concrete spillway. The agency argues
that federal law, regulations and policy restrict payments only
to work needed to fix damage stemming from a declared disaster.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has been battling the
destructive Nutria for two years. State biologists believe it
will be another three years before they win the war against the
pesky rodent. The nutria is considered a triple threat to
Valley wetlands, agriculture and water delivery systems.
With rising tides threatening to submerge the Palo Alto
Baylands by mid-century, city officials agreed on Monday
they need to explore new barriers — both physical and
legislative — to protect coastal area from sea level rise.
These measures will be approved as part of a new Sea Level Rise
Implementation Plan, a document that Public Works staff are in
the process of putting together and that could have significant
ramification for properties around the Baylands.
When a wild river floods, water and sediment spills over its
banks onto adjacent land, it builds up a natural floodplain.
Floodplains allow a river’s high flows to spread out and slow
down, forming temporary reservoirs that pool over the rainy
season. That means more water percolating down into underlying
aquifers … and less floodwaters barreling toward cities.
The statewide snowpack has reached 160 percent of its annual
year-to-date average and the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra
Nevada can be seen from Highway 198. … But, if you think
that’s a lot of rain, think again. Sunday marks the 113th
anniversary of the 1906 flood, which filled Visalia’s downtown
streets with about a foot of water. The water didn’t dissipate
for 10 days.
Dozens of computer coding teams from around San Joaquin County
were tasked to create an app in roughly seven hours. The issue:
following the destruction caused by the malfunction of the
Oroville Dam in February 2017 and the evacuation of more than
180,000 people, could there be an app that can track dam
leakage, seismic activity and other structural impacts and
communicate with the appropriate individuals to help deter
By allocating $1 million last week toward a creek restoration
project set to rejuvenate threatened and endangered species and
reduce flooding in Pescadero, county officials locked in
funding needed to begin a dredging effort experts expect will
give the Butano Creek a chance to reset.
They are a semiaquatic South American rodent a bit smaller than
a beaver. Females can give birth three times a year and have up
to 12 babies each litter. They are really good at tearing up
crops, burrowing tunnels into levees, and other destructive
behavior that is tough on farmers. And they’ve been discovered
in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a major food-producing
A bill from Sen. Bill Dodd that would increase legislative
oversight of the controversial Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
WaterFix project and allow for more public scrutiny has cleared
its first committee hurdle. The action comes less than a month
after Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to scale back the project
proposed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to a single tunnel.
Recent rains have left the San Joaquin Valley’s reservoirs in
better shape, but groundwater depletion and the resulting
ground subsidence continue to beset farmers and water managers.
What will this year hold? … Your best opportunity to
understand the challenges and opportunities of this vital
resource in the nation’s breadbasket is to join us on our
Central Valley Tour April 3-5.
It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana
face similar water challenges. California is better known for
having too little water and Louisiana too much – both
challenges exacerbated by climate change. But record-setting
wet winter weather led both states last week to release
significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to
prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to
build climate-resilient communities across the country.
In the midst of the wet winter storms bringing rain and snow to
California this year, you might not expect drought preparations
to be among the state’s current priorities. And yet, they need
to be. In this post, I’ll explore why to set the stage for a
blog series that explores what the state can do to prepare for
the more frequent and intense droughts we expect in
California’s future. The series draws on work my colleagues and
I did for California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment.
The Sacramento Valley’s flood management system is a good
example where a portfolio of actions has greatly reduced flood
damages and deaths, with relatively little management expense
and attention in a highly flood-prone region. This case also
illustrates how the many individual flood management options
presented in the table can be assembled into a diversified
cost-effective strategy involving the many local, state, and
federal parties concerned with floods.
A “major problem” in southeast Tulare County forced hundreds of
people out of their homes and endangered thousands of animals.
… Tulare County Sheriff’s Department was sent scrambling to
notify residents in the area of Strathmore that Frazier Creek
Canal spilled over and water levels were rising. Frazier Creek
is directly linked to the Friant-Kern Canal. … Friant-Kern
Water Authority officials later determined the flooding wasn’t
caused by “overtopping” of the Friant-Kern Canal’s banks. The
issue was drainage from Frazier Creek.
For a region so crucial to the growth of California as we know
it today, you might think there would be libraries full of
books about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And yet, as UC
Merced scholar Gregg Camfield wrote several years ago, the most
obvious thing about the literature of the Delta “is how little
there is.” Advocates of the largest estuary on the west coast
of the Americas are trying to collect those scattered bits and
pieces in a new anthology of the Delta.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a $35 million
contract to continue the Sutter Basin Project – strengthening a
stretch of Sutter County levees. The project will allow repairs
to continue on approximately five more miles of the Feather
River west levee between Tudor Road and Cypress Avenue in south
Sutter County, according to a press release from the corps.
A long battle over development of the Cargill salt ponds in
Redwood City may soon return after the EPA declared the site
exempt from the federal Clean Water Act — causing concern by
environmentalists and the city’s mayor. The Environmental
Protection Agency announced its decision earlier this month,
effectively removing one of several barriers to development of
the 1,400-acre Bayside property.
We love our Russian River for its eternal beauty, its nurturing
forces, its quenching properties, its recreation and play and
its renewing spirits. We love our river — except when we don’t.
And right now we are distraught over the destruction its
breached muddy torrents visited upon us yet again.
Swollen rivers and creeks fed by atmospheric-river storms
caused flooding with both short-term and long-term impacts for
California farmers. Mary Ann Renner, a dairy farmer in the
Humboldt County town of Ferndale, said the flood from the Eel
River was not the worst she’s seen—but was close.
The dramatic shift from dry to wet this winter hints at what’s
to come. Scientists predict that California’s total
precipitation will remain close to constant in the future, but
it will fall in a shorter window of time, with more of it as
rain. The state will also experience greater variability—more
very wet and more very dry years. These findings highlight the
need to capture rainfall and improve aging infrastructure.
Here’s what to expect from California’s wet seasons, now and in
The state Department of Water Resources announced that releases
from the powerplant were being increased from 1,750 cubic feet
per second to 5,000 cfs. Ten-day projections show the lake
reaching 835 feet on March 14, according to DWR. The department
has said it does not anticipate that it will utilize the
rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway anytime soon; however, crews have
been making preparations in case its use becomes necessary. The
spillway becomes usable once water reaches its gates at 813
feet, which should happen Tuesday morning.
Four new voting members, each appointed by representatives of
the Delta region, would be added to the Delta Stewardship
Council if a bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier becomes
law. … Frazier introduced Assembly Bill 1194 this week. It
would increase the voting membership of the council to 11
But the river remains an unpredictable force, one that could
give rise to even more destructive floods in an era of
increasingly extreme weather, experts say. … County
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has her sights on the opportunities to
tame floodwaters in the river’s middle reaches, starting near
Windsor and upstream, where it broadens and meanders more
freely in a floodplain less constricted by roads and other
The southern Sierra Nevada is expected to see a pair of storm
systems in the coming days that could create “significant
flooding” over several burn scars in the area, according to
weather officials. … Next week’s storm, which is expected to
hit the area midweek, is the primary source of concern. “That
storm could bring between 2 and 5 inches of rain,” said Kevin
Durfee, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “If
those rain amounts do materialize, we could be looking at some
significant flooding over the burn scars, and rising water
levels in rivers and streams.”
State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) said Senate Bill 559,
will “help secure California’s water supply by investing $400
million toward restoring lost (delivery) capacity on the
Friant-Kern Canal, one of the San Joaquin Valley’s most
critical water delivery facilities.” … The $400 million would
be appropriated from the state general fund to the Department
of Water Resources to administer the repairs.
A Northern California river flooded 2,000 homes, businesses and
other buildings and left two communities virtual islands after
days of stormy weather, officials said Wednesday. The towns of
Guerneville and Monte Rio were hardest hit by water pouring
from the Russian River, which topped 46 feet (13 meters) late
Wednesday night. It hadn’t reached that level for 25 years and
wasn’t expected to recede again until late Thursday night.
The Russian River has surpassed flood levels after an
extraordinary 48 hours of rainfall, and by Wednesday morning
the waters had blocked all roadways into and out of the town of
Guerneville. By 6 a.m., all routes out of the 4,500-person town
of Guerneville were blocked by the rising water, which was
creeping closer to 41 feet — nine more than the flood level of
32 feet — with an additional five feet expected.
If you stand on a fragile levee of the Sacramento River these
days and watch the chocolate brown water rushing toward the
delta only a few feet under your boots, one can’t help but
wonder why the state and federal governments aren’t capturing
more of this precious resource. Why is all but a tiny fraction
heading out to sea?
Rains over the past several weeks have caused erosion to a
recently improved portion of levee along the east side of the
Feather River and protecting Marysville. But officials say the
damage is superficial and doesn’t pose a threat to public
February storms have almost eliminated drought conditions from
California. The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday that
just over 67 percent of the state is totally free of any level
of dryness. Just under 30 percent is classified as abnormally
dry, and less than 4 percent remains in either moderate or
One week after an atmospheric river storm pounded Northern
California, causing flooding, mudslides and traffic headaches,
another one appears to be forming in the Pacific and is set to
arrive early next week. Computer models show the storm
hitting Monday or Tuesday, with the North Bay and parts of
California farther north taking the brunt, although that could
change, experts say.
Although it might sound absurd to those who still recall five
years of withering drought and mandatory water restrictions,
researchers and engineers warn that California may be due for
rain of biblical proportions — or what experts call an
ARkStorm. … In heavily populated areas of the Los
Angeles Basin, epic runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains could
rapidly overwhelm a flood control dam on the San Gabriel river
and unleash floodwaters from Pico Rivera to Long Beach, says a
recent analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The wet weather broke a daily rainfall record in Sacramento,
with 1.6 inches of rain recorded at the Sacramento Executive
Airport over 24 hours. But the state’s network of flood-control
dams and levees appeared to handle the deluge without major
problems. The National Weather Service issued a flood
warning Wednesday morning for the Sacramento Valley, and it was
expected to remain in place until 6 p.m. Thursday as heavy and
moderate rainfall was forecast to continue through Thursday.
A powerful “atmospheric river” storm is expected to pummel
Northern California starting Tuesday night and deliver heavy
rain, gusty winds, downed trees, power outages and rough
driving conditions Wednesday and Thursday. … The storm
should bring up to 5 feet of new snow in the Sierra Nevada,
forecasters said. The National Weather Service announced
flash-flood and high-wind warnings for the Bay Area, along with
Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Our floodplain reforestation projects are biodiversity hotspots
and climate-protection powerhouses that cost far less than
old-fashioned gray infrastructure of levees, dams and
reservoirs. They provide highly-effective flood safety by
strategically spreading floodwater. Floodplain forests combat
the effects of drought by recharging groundwater and increasing
California’s San Joaquin River Delta is in danger of being
overrun by voracious beagle-sized rodents. The state has a plan
to deal with them, but it’s going to take a lot of time and
money. Nutria, a large South American rodent, have become an
invasive species in several states, including Louisiana,
Maryland and Oregon.
A new approach to flood management around the San Francisco Bay
could trim maintenance costs for water agencies, restore
habitat for endangered species, and help protect against rising
seas. What links the three? Sediment. Winter storms push
sediment down creeks that flow into the Bay and, long ago,
these waterways fanned out when they reached the edge. Sediment
settled there, nourishing tidal baylands — salt marshes and
mudflats that are rich in wildlife, and also buffer the shore
from storm surges, the highest tides, and sea level rise. Today
few of these low-lying tidal baylands remain.
The proposed tunnel path stretches 35 miles from west of Elk
Grove to just below Discovery Bay. The tunnels would take water
from three intakes along the Sacramento River to existing
aqueducts south of Discovery Bay, and then the water will be
sent to Southern California. Along the proposed path, there are
at least 22 levees that would sit above the tunnels….
The concern is not so much the levees themselves, but the kind
of soil that is below the levees.
The nutria invasion of California continues. Greg Gerstenberg,
a biologist and nutria operations chief with the California
Department of Fish and Wildlife, said 372 nutria had been
trapped in the state as of Jan. 10. Bruce Blodgett, executive
director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation, wants
farmers and others who maintain levees to be aware.
A simple web search will pull up nearly a million articles,
videos and photos featuring Frank Gehrke. He’s no fashion icon
like Kim Kardashian or a dogged politician like Gov. Jerry
Brown. But he has broken a lot of news. … For 30 years,
you might have seen Gehrke on TV, the guy trudging through snow
with a measuring pole, talking about how deep the pack is each
winter on the evening news. He retired from his post as the
state’s chief snow surveyor in December, but he’s not letting
go of his snowshoes and skis anytime soon.
Land subsidence from overpumping of San Joaquin Valley
groundwater sank portions of the Friant-Kern Canal, the
152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River
to farms that help fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural
economy. A plan to fix it helped sink the $8.8 billion
Proposition 3 bond measure last November. Now San Joaquin
Valley water managers are trying to figure out another way to
restore the canal, not only to keep farmers farming, but to aid
the valley’s overtaxed groundwater aquifers. By Gary
Pitzer in Western Water.
The work to provide Yuba-Sutter with the highest level of flood
protection possible isn’t yet complete, but the levees are much
better today, having had the oversight expertise of the head of
the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency. After more than seven
years with the agency, SBFCA Executive Director Mike Inamine
announced he would be leaving this week for a job with the
California Department of Water Resources.
Officials have given President Trump a plan to divert funds
designated for Army Corps of Engineers projects in California
and Puerto Rico to help pay for a wall along the southern
border, a leading member of Congress said Thursday.
… The projects include raising the height of Folsom Dam
on the American River in Northern California, protecting Lake
Isabella in Kern County from leaking as a result of
earthquakes, enlarging the Tule River and Lake Success in the
Central Valley and building shoreline protections in South San
At the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, a few
miles west of Modesto, work crews removed or broke several
miles of levee last spring and replanted the land with tens of
thousands of native sapling trees and shrubs. It’s part
of a growing emphasis on reconnecting floodplains to
rivers so they can absorb floodwaters. This shift in
methodology marks a U-turn from past reliance on levees to
protect cities and towns.
In February, following a string of severe natural
disasters in 2017, Congress provided a record $16 billion for
disaster mitigation — building better defenses against
hurricanes, floods and other catastrophes. Eleven months later,
the Trump administration has yet to issue rules telling states
how to apply for the money.
At the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, a
winter of heavy rains could inundate about 1,200 acres of
riverside woodland for the first time in 60 years. That’s by
design: Here, a few miles west of Modesto, work crews removed
or broke several miles of levee last spring and replanted the
land with tens of thousands of native sapling trees and shrubs.
Not long after the Gold Rush of 1849, California became a state
and made its capital in Sacramento. It seemed a logical choice.
The city was served by the two of the state’s biggest rivers,
the Sacramento and American, at a time when a lot of goods and
people moved via river traffic. It was somewhat centrally
located. But, there was the occasional flood. Every spring, the
snowcap in the Sierras melts, leaving a significant amount of
water in the Central Valley, where Sacramento sits. The city
engineered a levee system to control the seasonal flooding.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin advertising for
bids on a Feather River West Levee construction project
estimated at $77 million. According to a staff report published
earlier this year by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board,
the project would make improvements to approximately 4.9 miles
Merced County sweet potato farmer Stan Silva hadn’t even heard
the word “nutria” until a few months ago. He’s still never seen
one, but he’s worried about the damage these 20-pound rodents
with big orange buck teeth could do in California if they’re
not eradicated. “It would be devastating,” Silva says. “They
can basically ruin the ag industry here — they get in your
fields, burrow into your canal ways, your waterways.” They can
also tear up crops and levees, making the state’s water
infrastructure more vulnerable.
Marysville is one step closer to being the most protected city
in the Central Valley from flooding, experts say, with the
recent completion of a stretch of slurry wall in part of the
ring levee project. Last week, crews completed a portion
of the Marysville Ring Levee project – Phase 2A North – located
between the 10th Street and Fifth Street bridges.
Two-hundred members of the California Conservation Corps from
as far away as San Diego and Fortuna descended on a Delta levee
bordering southwest Stockton’s Van Buskirk Park on Tuesday to
practice their flood control skills. … CCC
Communications Director Dana Howard, also on hand to observe
Tuesday’s training exercise, took the opportunity to announce
the recent opening of the Corps’ first newly constructed
facility in Northern California in decades.
When it comes to flood fighting, the men and women who’ve
worked for Levee District 1 have seen it all – from tragedy to
triumph. Those still around have plenty of stories to tell. The
public will have an opportunity to hear some of those stories
during the district’s 150th anniversary celebration on Oct. 26.
The district is responsible for operations and maintenance of
16.15 miles of levee spanning from Pease Road to Marcuse Road
in Sutter County.
Farmers in the Central Valley are broiling about California’s plan to increase flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems to help struggling salmon runs avoid extinction. But in one corner of the fertile breadbasket, River Garden Farms is taking part in some extraordinary efforts to provide the embattled fish with refuge from predators and enough food to eat.
And while there is no direct benefit to one farm’s voluntary actions, the belief is what’s good for the fish is good for the farmers.
When rivers flood now in the United States, the first towns to
get hit are the unprotected ones right by the river. The last
to go, if they flood at all, are the privileged few behind
strong levees. While levees mostly are associated with large,
low-lying cities such as New Orleans, a majority of the
nation’s Corps-managed levees protect much smaller communities,
rural farm towns and suburbs such as Valley Park [Missouri].
A steady stream of trucks has started carrying dirt to what
will be a new levee to protect Hamilton City. The trucks
started rolling Monday, carrying dirt from a pile at the north
end of Canal Road that is left from the excavation of the
The West Sacramento City Council voted 4-1 last month to begin
a process that would convert an independent district in charge
of levee management into a subsidiary of West Sacramento, and
allow the council to replace the district’s board of directors
with appointees or the council members themselves. Reclamation
District 900 has operated independently since 1911, managing
13.6 miles of levees that provide flood protection along the
The Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday that the
additional money would be available to the Hamilton City Flood
Damage Reduction and Ecosystem Restoration Project in the
current fiscal year. … It is the first in the
nation being constructed under the Corps’ guidelines to develop
projects that include both flood risk reduction and ecosystem
We traveled deep into California’s
water hub and traverse the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a
720,000-acre network of islands and canals that supports the
state’s water system and is California’s most crucial water and
ecological resource. The tour made its way to San Francisco Bay,
and included a ferry ride.
Sometime after Tim Pelican arrived at work Monday, a farmer
stopped by to deliver a package to San Joaquin County’s
agricultural commissioner. The farmer’s package contained a
dead nutria, a 2½–foot-long, 20-pound beast that looks like a
beaver but is smaller and has a round, ratlike tail and white
Along the banks of the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Oakley, about 50 miles southwest
of Sacramento, is a park that harkens back to the days when the
Delta lured Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French fur
trappers, and later farmers to its abundant wildlife and rich
That historical Delta was an enormous marsh linked to the two
freshwater rivers entering from the north and south, and tidal
flows coming from the San Francisco Bay. After the Gold Rush,
settlers began building levees and farms, changing the landscape
and altering the habitat.
Modifications were made to construction plans for an upcoming
phase of the Marysville Ring Levee project. … The Marysville
Levee Commission, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are proposing changes to their
original plans for an area located along the existing levee to
the southwest of Marysville, between the Fifth Street Bridge
and E Street Bridge.
The view from Don Murphy’s expansive backyard is breathtaking.
The Sacramento River rolls gently past as birds float in the
mid-winter fog. It is nearly silent, except for the infrequent
car driving along a delta road across the river. … Now a
fight is heating up over who should have access to that
Faced with a shortage of money and political support after
seven years of work, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is
working on a plan to scale back one of his key legacy projects,
a $17 billion proposal to build two massive tunnels under the
Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to make it easier to move
water from Northern California to the south.
The Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency got to work on emergency
levee repairs following last winter’s high waters and the
Oroville Dam evacuation. Seepage, boils, sink holes and water
erosion were signs of severe distress. The $28.5 million
project, mostly funded by the state, is geared up to complete
This tour traveled deep into California’s water hub and traversed
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of
islands and canals that supports the state’s water system and is
California’s most crucial water and ecological resource. The
tour made its way to San Francisco Bay and
included a ferry ride.
Considering the events of this past winter and the problems
they posed to Yuba-Sutter levees, officials are confident the
improvements made over the past several months will withstand
the upcoming flood season.
California needs to spend another $100 million a year to keep
the state’s levee system sound, according to state flood
control experts. At a press conference marking flood
preparedness week Monday at a levee repair site near
Sacramento, Bill Edgar, president of the Central Valley Flood
Protection Board said the levees will need a $17 billion to $21
billion investment over the next 30 years to protect the seven
million Californians at flood risk.
Something monumental happened on August 25 in California
water management that received almost no media attention: It
became official policy to reconnect the state’s major rivers
with their floodplains. The action by the Central Valley
Flood Protection Board, an obscure panel appointed by the
governor, clears the way for the state to embrace projects that
allow floods to recharge groundwater. … The timing
coincides with two other major state programs.
After more than a century of building levees higher to hold
back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a
flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room
to spread out instead.
The heavy work is now underway on emergency repairs to the
nearly 3 miles of levee protecting the heart of Yuba City. The
Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency received federal approval
Tuesday night to proceed wth the work.
Work crews with heavy machinery started emergency repairs
Thursday to a levee that protects Yuba City, and was damaged by
high flows during the Oroville Dam spillway emergency. The
$28.5 million project will create a seepage cutoff wall and
rebuild 2.9-miles of levee along the west side of the Feather
River that protect 80,000 people.
The engineers who scrambled to prevent Delta farms from
flooding this year have long insisted that the levees
surrounding those low-lying islands are not as fragile as
they’re sometimes portrayed to be.
Construction work on a portion of the Marysville Ring Levee –
deemed by a federal agency as the “weakest link” in the city’s
levees – began earlier this month along Highway 70. …
John Nicoletti, a levee commissioner for Marysville, said the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has assessed the ring levee and
found that Binney Junction is the city’s most vulnerable point.
The flooding is the result of more than a week of high
temperatures that have rapidly melted mountain snow, filling
Pine Flat Reservoir and prompting the Army Corps of Engineers
to send a surge of water into the Kings River to make room for
more runoff behind the dam. The river surge tested levees along
the Kings in a way some residents has never expected.
Water releases from Pine Flat Dam were ratcheted up Thursday as
federal officials worked to prevent the reservoir from
overtopping the dam. … Crews from Kings County and
the Kings River Conservation District responded to a
small breach in a levee on the south fork of the Kings River
between Grangville and Highway 198.
The Department of Water Resources invited downstream levee
maintaining agencies and county emergency operators to a
meeting in Oroville on Monday to discuss ways of improving
operations and planning for future emergency situations.
A worst-case sea level rise increase of 10 feet to 12 feet by
the year 2100 would utterly transform Stockton as we know it
today. Climate Central, a New Jersey-based climate science
nonprofit, recently published maps depicting what
this unlikely, yet still “plausible,” scenario might look
A five year survey released by the California Department of
Water Resources reveals half of the levees that guard
California cities from a major flood don’t meet modern
standards, and if a levee were to break in the wrong place, it
could cut off the drinking water supply to the Bay Area for
months or even years.
The rain has largely stopped after one of the wettest winters
in California. But as spring temperatures begin to climb and
snow in the Sierra Nevada melts, the threat of flooding has
communities across the Central Valley on edge. … The
concerns are magnified in some areas by subsidence, a festering
problem exacerbated by five years of drought in the Central
Rivers were swift and wide this winter with heavy storms adding
up to the wettest winter in 122 years. People who have lived in
the Sacramento Valley for decades remember flooding from their
youth, when towns were evacuated, homes were lost and topsoil
Two bills that would protect Delta levees and ratepayers were
passed in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on
Tuesday. Assemblyman Jim Frazier’s two bills — AB 732 and AB
791 — passed through their first hurdle.
The Manteca Unified School District must pay to fund local
levee improvements, just like any other property owner in the
area, an appeals court has found. One attorney says the
decision is good news for the small levee districts across the
Delta charged with protecting farms and cities from floods.
After millions of dollars of flood damage and mass evacuations
this year, California is grappling with how to update its aging
flood infrastructure. That has some calling for a new approach
to flood control – one that mimics nature instead of trying to
In the wake of a near disaster at Oroville Dam caused by heavy
runoff and a damaged spillway, the former chief of flood
operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week
it may be time to reconsider how the reservoir is operated to
avert such dilemmas.
When state water officials scaled back their mass dumping of
water from the damaged Oroville Dam this week, they knew the
riverbed below would dry up enough to allow the removal of vast
piles of debris from the fractured main spillway.
Until a few weeks ago, the McCormack-Williamson Tract in the
California Delta was an island of low-lying farmland, more than
two square miles protected from the surrounding rivers and
sloughs by earthen levees.
Roberts Island hasn’t flooded severely since 1884. Yet here
they are, fourth-generation farmer Mike Robinson and his son,
Michael, spending their Friday night inspecting every inch of
the 15-mile levee from a truck crawling along at 5 mph.
Billions of dollars in flood projects have eased fears of levee
breaks near California’s capital and some other cities, but
state and federal workers are joining farmers with tractors in
round-the-clock battles this week to stave off any
chain-reaction failure of rural levees protecting farms and
As the latest major storm to saturate California got in its
final licks Tuesday, the state deployed all the weapons in its
flood-control arsenal — including farm tractors, pontoon
boats and controlled releases from mountain reservoirs.
Creeks and rivers topped their banks, hundreds of homes were
evacuated and several thousand people found themselves trapped
in a rural hamlet as Northern California emerged Tuesday from
yet another winter storm.
While crews kept up emergency levee repairs on Tyler Island on
Tuesday, the San Joaquin River woke up and stretched her arms,
finally reaching flood stage after languishing for several
years as a weed-choked, drought-diminished trickle.
In the years before California’s drought, it wasn’t unusual for
Sacramentans to spend winters worrying about floods. After more
than five years with little rain, the past two weeks delivered
a bracing reminder that the region remains vulnerable to rising
waters and overtopped levees.
A levee break reported Monday afternoon on the north bank of
the Mokelumne River levee near Lodi is being filled while crews
are sandbagging a second break on the river’s south bank, the
San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services reports.
A small-island owner already threatened with a $4.6 million
fine by one state agency has been fined $772,000 by a state
commission for changing levees and waterways to create a
private kite surfing club for business executives.
Outgoing Rep. Sam Farr addressed a 23-member panel bringing
together local representatives from four counties, the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers, municipal flood control staff members
and the two candidates running to replace him on Nov. 8, Casey
Lucius and Jimmy Panetta.
A project to rebuild the Wallace Weir, a century-old levee
northwest of Sacramento, could help both farmers and salmon.
Bringing together a coalition of unlikely allies, it promises a
more sophisticated approach to water management.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the go-ahead to begin a
nine-part levee-improvement project for the Natomas Basin in
Sacramento. … The levees are part of a system that
diverts watershed runoff into the American River.
Staffers with the county’s public works department and
Community Development Agency were recently recognized for their
creative approach to engaging residents in a discussion on
sea-level rise, earning a public outreach award from the state
chapter of the American Planning Association for their creation
— the board game the “Game of Floods.”
A new $37.2 million levee in the town of St. Helena, on the
floodplain of the Napa River, has a colorful history and has
been stirring local acrimony since its inception. …
There are clearly positive elements of the St. Helena levee
project, but also numerous missteps that have mired the project
in dissent and even, opponents argue, threaten to bankrupt the
town. With important planning and zoning decisions now
pending, the St. Helena levee is a case study for other
communities to examine before they consider all of the options
for flood-risk management.
Years of rumbling dump trucks and backhoes placing 2.75 million
tons of rock “armor” along nearly a dozen miles of riverbank is
an unpleasant thought for many who bike, jog, fish, bird-watch,
golf, boat and swim along the lower American River Parkway.
New research shows people living behind levees on flood plains
may have a greater risk of flood damage than if the levees had
not been built. The research examined the long-term flood
risk, probabilities of levee failures and resulting economic
losses along the Mississippi River, but the science applies to
levee systems worldwide.
In a milestone for San Francisco Bay restoration that also
raises questions about who should pay to protect property from
rising seas caused by climate change, a low-profile government
agency is expected to place a $12 annual parcel tax on the June
ballot in all nine Bay Area counties.
Officials of the city, county and Army Corps of Engineers
announced Friday that there will be $3.6 million in emergency
federal funding for flood prevention measures along the Los
Angeles River following the first El Niño-related storms this
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin work next week to
temporarily raise the banks along nearly three miles of the Los
Angeles River to improve flood protection during El Niño
storms, officials announced Friday, just days after the
watercourse roared to life during heavy rains.
Federal disaster officials warned Tuesday that El Niño-fueled
storms in California could inflict millions of dollars in
damage this winter — from mud-soaked homes to broken levees to
downed electrical lines — and said they’re taking steps to
minimize the toll.
The funds, from the Department of Water Resources’ Flood
Systems Repair Program, will allow the Sutter Butte Flood
Control Agency to improve a section of levee near Laurel Avenue
south of Star Bend, further expanding a multi-year project to
raise the flood protection in urban and rural areas to 200- and
100-year levels, respectively.
The plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers calls for
improving 23 miles of levees, from Mosher Slough in the north
to French Camp Slough in the south. This is intended to protect
much of Stockton from catastrophic floods worsened by climate
Flooding may seem a distant threat at the moment, but that’s
the subject of a meeting Monday as a state agency pushes
forward with a study of which Delta levees should be first in
line for future funding.
A massive new round of levee improvements is ahead for
Sacramento over the next decade, this time focusing primarily
on the Sacramento River south of downtown. … The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers and Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency
unveiled the package of projects recently and are planning a
series of public meetings in April.
When the sun is shining and our rivers are low, we tend to
forget about levees. However, you can’t ignore the 1,100 miles
of levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. … This video
is a simulation of what would happen if a severe earthquake hit
the western Delta, causing widespread failure of levees.
The parties in a dispute over the fate of cultural materials
discovered in Sutter County have expressed a willingness to
solve the issue, but the path toward an agreement remains
uncertain and time is short.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the [United Auburn Indian
Community] UAIC disagree about the return of the items
uncovered last summer during the Feather River West Levee
project, even as both sides meet to resolve the issue.
More than a decade ago, an SN&R writer interviewed
Sacramento native Joan Didion about her then-new book, Where I
Was From. Part of the conversation involved the development of
Natomas, which Didion remembered fondly. “It was always so
beautiful,” she said, “even when it was underwater.”
When the last big December storm was at its peak, overflowing
storm drains and flash-flooding streets gave San Jose’s bayside
community of Alviso an all-too-real reminder that if not for
the levees and pumps, they’d be underwater.
Floodplains are extremely productive habitats for native fish
and birds, yet floodplains in California are cut off from
rivers by levees and development. … Recognizing these
constraints, reconciliation ecology encourages land and water
managers to re-engineer human-dominated landscapes to be more
hospitable for native species without significantly diminishing
human uses. California’s Yolo Bypass, an engineered floodplain
on the Sacramento River, is an excellent case study of this new
approach to native species conservation.