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Flood Protection Saves Lives

By: Kevin L. King          March 1, 2023


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California has experienced many consecutive years of drought conditions, so it is easy to forget that flooding doesn’t simply impact homes and property. It can be a matter of life and death.

As if anyone needed a reminder about the savage nature of flooding, the January storms made that point crystal clear.

At least 22 people died during the January floods, making it the deadliest meteorological event in the United States during January 2023. It was so severe that President Biden declared a state of emergency for more than 20 California counties, including Sacramento.

Of those who perished, five of those people died in Sacramento County.

As the head of Reclamation District No. 1000, which provides essential flood protection services for our Natomas community, I was incredibly thankful that our infrastructure withstood the persistent and torrential downpours. Fortunately for Natomas, our levees held firm, and our pumps kept pace with the onslaught of precipitation and torrential wind. Our District’s infrastructure suffered significant electrical and pump outages; nevertheless, we avoided devastating flooding with the help of SMUD and the swift action of our talented Flood Operation Specialists.

Three vehicles are submerged in south Sacramento county in Wilton, California.
Three vehicles are submerged in south Sacramento county in Wilton, California. Photograph: Héctor Amezcua/AP

Ever since its inception in 1911, the District has provided flood protection and public safety to Natomas in several ways that require ongoing vigilance. This includes (1) Maintaining more than 42 miles of exterior levees that keep out rising water from the frigid Sacramento and American Rivers; (2) Monitoring hundreds of miles of interior drainage canals, including the East Main Drain Canal, Pleasant Grove Creek Canal, and Natomas Cross Canal; and (3) Operating seven pump stations that remove the collected stormwater from Natomas and deliver it safely into the surrounding river systems. 

But the reality is, our flood protection infrastructure is outdated. The District still relies on some pumps that were installed in the 1900s. As well as unreliable backup power sources necessary for pumping stormwater during widespread power outages.

Previously we’ve discussed the first two “L” s of our recent public education initiative: Levees and Lift Pumps.

The third “L” stands for Lives.

Homes can be replaced, but lives cannot. The power and ferocity of a catastrophic flood is terrifying and can potentially kill thousands of people in our region if we are not prepared. That is something we keep foremost in our minds when planning for flood protection ow and in the future. flood protection.

We certainly are thankful we withstood this latest atmospheric river, but the truth is our flood protection infrastructure is significantly outdated, damaged, and running on borrowed time. This is why we have been tirelessly working on a public awareness effort, so Natomas residents will better understand the area’s flood control system and information about the need to update our infrastructure to ensure the region is protected for years to come.

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