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
In most parts of California, and indeed the United States, the
idea that the government would largely cede to private
companies management of a natural disaster that could decimate
multiple towns, displace thousands of farmworkers and wreak
destruction across hundreds of square miles would be
unfathomable. But that has long been how things operate in the
Tulare Lake Basin. Land barons, chief among them J.G. Boswell’s
founder, seized control of the basin and its water generations
ago and have since managed it with minimal government
interference. … The flood-prone Tulare Lake Basin is the one
part of the Central Valley that has a special exemption from
state-required flood control plans, leaving the area without a
clear public strategy for managing floodwaters.
There’s no debate whether flooding is a serious risk for Santa
Venetia residents. … the county has started work on
repairing sections of the timber-reinforced earth berm that is
now protecting the area. … The wall, stretching from
Meadow Drive to Vendola Drive, is deteriorating. The county is
spending $300,000 to repair it. The plan is to finish the work
by the end of October, in time to upgrade protection before the
It’s been six months since the levee protecting the small
Central Coast farming community of Pajaro burst, flooding the
town and forcing thousands out of their homes. And
while repairs are underway, a permanent fix is still years
in the making.
The collapse of two dams in Libya, unleashing torrential
floodwaters that left at least 3,000 people dead and over 4,200
still missing, was both predicted and preventable. And they
won’t be the last big dams to collapse … In the United
States, the second most prolific dam-builder after China, the
average age of dams is 65 years old and an estimated 2,200
structures are at high risk of collapse. … The fact
that it’s increasingly difficult to justify many dams’
existence is one reason there is a growing movement, often led
by Indigenous peoples and other marginalized populations, to
remove them. Most notably, the removal of four dams on
the Klamath River along the Oregon-California border,
set to be completed next year, will be the largest such effort
in history. -Written by Josh Klemm and Isabella
Winkler, co-directors of International Rivers, a group
that advocates for healthy rivers and the rights of river
Last winter, Sacramento faced a three-week series of
atmospheric rivers that brought flooding across the Valley and
downed trees and branches. As the region gets closer to another
rainy season, Sacramento’s utility department is preparing by
shoring up critical flood control infrastructure across the
city. The maintenance is similar to work done in years past,
according to a news release, and to work done in March. Work
will begin Sept. 18 at a ditch near Winters Street, before
moving to Strawberry Creek, the 5-B detention basin in North
Natomas, Lower and Upper Morrison creeks and ditches near the
Sacramento Northern Bike Trail.
On an overcast morning on Friday, Aug. 25, as jets of water
from sprinklers rain down on the surrounding fields of lettuce,
a gaggle of journalists, politicians and public officials are
gathered at a press event along the Pajaro River levee, just
more than a stone’s throw from where it breached last March.
The breach occurred after weeks of sustained rainfall on the
Central Coast, and it wasn’t a surprise – for over 50 years,
federal, state and local officials have known the levee was
deficient, but there was never enough buy-in, or urgency, to do
something about it. Seemingly, that is starting to change, but
time will tell if it’s real, or just a public relations
band-aid to save face after the flooding in the community of
Pajaro, which displaced thousands of residents from their homes
and left some of those homes unlivable.
Of all the places that unexpectedly flooded this past year,
there was one that unexpectedly did not – Lamont. Typically,
heavy rain years kick up water in the Caliente Creek and it
comes rushing east out of the Tehachapi Mountains, turns south
under Highway 58 into a wide wash and floods out Lamont. Years
ago, the water would have spread out like a sheet and continued
south toward Arvin. But farmers built a levee along Mountain
View Road and lined it with tamarisk trees. The structure is
easily spotted on satellite map views of the area.
About a half-mile off San Juan Road, past the lettuce fields,
excavators and tractors have begun moving earth to repair the
exact spot along the 12-mile Pajaro River levee that failed on
March 11, leading to catastrophic flooding and generational
disaster. Elected officials and community leaders from Santa
Cruz and Monterey counties and representatives from the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers stood against a noisy backdrop of
construction Friday to update the community on where this
urgent project stands. The emergency repair underway will focus
on three sections of the levee. The first section, where the
levee burst in March, will finish by Nov. 2, according to Holly
Costa, emergency management chief for the corps.
Nearly six months after a Pajaro River levee breach upended the
lives of about 3,000 Pajaro residents, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers is trying to complete repairs on three parts of the
levee before anticipated winter rain. Emergency repairs are
expected to finish by the end of November but it could take
longer if there is rain, said Holly Costa, emergency management
chief for the Army Corps of Engineers. It is “very
unusual” for levees to be fully repaired in the same year they
were damaged, Costa said. When the levee was damaged in the
past, “we didn’t get those repaired until two or three years
afterwards,” she said. Completing the levee repairs before the
rainy season is crucial because wet conditions could make the
work difficult, Costa said.
The Butte County Board of Supervisors will be returning to
talks regarding a potential Flood Risk Reduction Feasibility
Study on Tuesday based on data gathered by its Public Works
Department. Stemming from discussions in both 2020 and 2021,
the public works staff was given direction by the board to work
with field experts and stakeholders to come up with a draft
study regarding Nord, Rock Creek and Keefer Slough. According
to the related agenda item, a presentation is planned for
Tuesday’s meeting that will go over the draft study, its
findings and what measures are possible for the county in
reducing the risk for these areas.
Land and waterway managers labored
hard over the course of a century to control California’s unruly
rivers by building dams and levees to slow and contain their
water. Now, farmers, environmentalists and agencies are undoing
some of that work as part of an accelerating campaign to restore
the state’s major floodplains.
This tour guided participants on a virtual journey deep into California’s most crucial water and ecological resource – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The 720,000-acre network of islands and canals support the state’s two major water systems – the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. The Delta and the connecting San Francisco Bay form the largest freshwater tidal estuary of its kind on the West coast.
Many of California’s watersheds are
notoriously flashy – swerving from below-average flows to jarring
flood conditions in quick order. The state needs all the water it
can get from storms, but current flood management guidelines are
strict and unyielding, requiring reservoirs to dump water each
winter to make space for flood flows that may not come.
However, new tools and operating methods are emerging that could
lead the way to a redefined system that improves both water
supply and flood protection capabilities.
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.
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.
15-minute DVD that graphically portrays the potential disaster
should a major earthquake hit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
“Delta Warning” depicts what would happen in the event of an
earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale: 30 levee breaks,
16 flooded islands and a 300 billion gallon intrusion of salt
water from the Bay – the “big gulp” – which would shut down the
State Water Project and Central Valley Project pumping plants.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Flood Management explains the
physical flood control system, including levees; discusses
previous flood events (including the 1997 flooding); explores
issues of floodplain management and development; provides an
overview of flood forecasting; and outlines ongoing flood control
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to the Delta explores the competing
uses and demands on California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Included in the guide are sections on the history of the Delta,
its role in the state’s water system, and its many complex issues
with sections on water quality, levees, salinity and agricultural
drainage, fish and wildlife, and water distribution.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
With the dual threats of obsolete levees and anticipated rising sea levels,
areas adjacent to waterways that flood during wet years—are
increasingly at the forefront of many public policy and water
issues in California.
Adding to the challenges, many floodplains have been heavily
developed and are home to major cities such as Sacramento. Large
parts of California’s valleys are historic floodplains as well.
Roughly 1,115 miles of levees protect farms, cities, schools and
people in and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin
Delta, a crucial conduit for California’s overall water
supply. But the Delta’s levees are vulnerable to failure due to
floods, earthquakes and rising sea levels brought about by
climate change. A widespread failure could imperil the state’s
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 Joaquin
These levees have been in place dating back to 1850, when
California first joined the union.
This issue of Western Water looks at the BDCP and the
Coalition to Support Delta Projects, issues that are aimed at
improving the health and safety of the Delta while solidifying
California’s long-term water supply reliability.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the issues
associated with the State Water Board’s proposed revision of the
water quality Bay-Delta Plan, most notably the question of
whether additional flows are needed for the system, and how they
might be provided.
This printed issue of Western Water discusses several
flood-related issues, including the proposed Central Valley Flood
Protection Plan, the FEMA remapping process and the dispute
between the state and the Corps regarding the levee vegetation
Levees are one of those pieces of engineering that are never
really appreciated until they fail. 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.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Delta through the
many ongoing activities focusing on it, most notably the Delta
Vision process. Many hours of testimony, research, legal
proceedings, public hearings and discussion have occurred and
will continue as the state seeks the ultimate solution to the
problems tied to the Delta.
This printed copy of Western Water examines climate change –
what’s known about it, the remaining uncertainty and what steps
water agencies are talking to prepare for its impact. Much of the
information comes from the October 2007 California Climate Change
and Water Adaptation Summit sponsored by the Water Education
Foundation and DWR and the November 2007 California Water Policy
Conference sponsored by Public Officials for Water and
This issue of Western Water examines the extent to
which California faces a disaster equal to or greater than the
New Orleans floods and the steps being taken to recognize and
address the shortcomings of the flood control system in the
Central Valley and the Delta, which is of critical importance
because of its role in providing water to 22 million people.
Complicating matters are the state’s skyrocketing pace of growth
coupled with an inherently difficult process of obtaining secure,
long-term funds for levee repairs and continued maintenance.
This issue of Western Water analyzes northern California’s
extensive flood control system – it’ history, current concerns,
the Paterno decision and how experts are re-thinking the concept
of flood management.