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 The voice of California's rivers

Sacramento Region

Learn about: Sacramento Region's Flood Risk * City of Sacramento's Water Meters * Water Forum

Sacramento Valley Flood? 
Reflections on times of high water in California’s Great Central Valley


California flood

History of the American River Floods:


We all know that the natural weather cycle of California includes wet winters. When river waters rise, they can overrun their banks and flood surrounding areas. This has been happening for tens of thousands of years, in the same places, and will continue to happen.

It doesn’t make sense to build new homes where we know they will get flooded. It isn’t right to risk people’s lives by selling homes that put them in harm’s way. It isn’t fair to ask taxpayers to pick up the costs when floods happen in the known flood plains. There is no logic in spending billions of tax dollars on environmentally devastating dams just so developers can put more and more people in riverside lowlands still subject to devastating floods.

We need affordable housing in California, but we need to be sensible as well. It needs to be recognized that some communities cannot be reliably protected from the forces of nature. Floodplain mapping needs to more honestly characterize flood risks. Flood insurance should be a requirement for structures located in floodplains. Communities can be sited out of from harm’s way — or better designed and constructed so flood damages and loss of life are minimized. Floodwater management systems that feature set back levees, flood bypasses, and floodplains where floodwaters can safely be accommodated are more likely to be successful than those that try confine too much water, moving too fast, in too small an area. Setback levees, undeveloped floodplain areas, and bypasses have a track record of success in some parts of the Sacramento Valley, a practice of success that should be adopted in other parts of the Central Valley where natural floodways have been strangled to make room for development. Cities, of course, need to maintain important (and hopefully sensibly designed) flood-control structures so they remain effective. It’s irresponsible to keep building in dangerously deep flood plains.

California needs a sensible plan to improve flood management and preserve floodplains.
It doesn’t make sense to needlessly fight Mother Nature; in the long run, she wins the game.

For 8 years (2001-2008) of scientific and engineering presentations on flood forecasting, flood meteorology and hydrology, and dam operations, visit: California Extreme Precipitation Symposium

American River Flood Control Project — FOR supports funding and implementation of improvements to Folsom Dam and downstream levees, which when completed will more than handle any likely flood on the American River and make unnecessary the construction of the much more expensive and destructive Auburn Dam as a flood control solution.

FOR Senior Policy Advocate Ron Stork has worked on California's flood management projects and policy for two decades, and he is quoted often in the media:

Ron served on the state's Independent Review Panel, comprising flood experts from around the country, chaired by General Gerald Galloway, to make recommendations on flood issues in the Central Valley. The Independent Review Panel’s report, “A California Challenge—Flooding in the Central Valley,” can be downloaded here.

FOR has advocated for less environmentally destructive solutions to flood management by actively engaging with state and local entities for over a decade.  Before FOR got involved, the answer to flood control was to build more dams, like the proposed Auburn Dam.  Today, FOR's efforts have enabled projects like upgrading Folsom Dam to better provide flood management and investment in levee improvements. To learn more about Flood Management, click here.

City of Sacramento's Water Meters 


Editorial: Sacramento's a shameless guzzler

Published in the Sacramento Bee: Sunday, Mar. 22, 2009

The city of Sacramento has a fat target on its back as California examines options for stretching its water supply.

In the eyes of many lawmakers and regulators, Sacramento has become the outlaw for water waste. On a per-capita basis, city residents use 280 gallons daily more than twice the figure of residents in Los Angeles.

Other metropolitan areas have invested tens of millions of dollars in conservation, efficiency and water recycling. Sacramento, by contrast, is far behind in installing water meters, a basic first step toward pricing and managing its supplies wisely.

For years, city officials brushed aside its reputation sprinkler water gushing into storm drains, people using hoses to sweep off their driveways with a well-worn justification. Most of Sacramento's used water flows back into rivers through groundwater and treated wastewater, and thus can be used again, they stated.

That's true. Roughly 56 percent of Sacramento's water flows back into rivers. Yet 44 percent does not. This water evaporates, or gets absorbed by plants.

If just a portion of this water could remain in the rivers (no longer to be used on driveways), the benefits would be huge. The city would no longer need to pump, treat, store and distribute billions of gallons. The result would be significant energy savings for the city, along with less treated wastewater flowing back into the rivers warmer and more polluted than when it started.

The city could even bank these savings. Water conserved could be sold or transferred for other uses, including helping fisheries or farmers to the south.

Sadly, the capital city has a lot of catch-up to do, as the graphic to the left shows. Over the last decade, the amount of water produced by the city has increased 24 percent, while the city population has climbed just 17 percent.

Part of this increased usage, a city utilities official says, comes from water transferred or "wholesaled" to Sacramento County water districts, which rely on groundwater. A recent warming trend may also be a factor, with homeowners turning on their sprinklers earlier in the spring and keeping them on later into the fall.

Yet as city officials acknowledge, wasteful water practices are common, and up until now, they've gone unpunished. That needs to change, but so does the city's overall investment in smarter parks management, landscaping and overall water efficiency.

Consider the example of other urban areas. Over the last 17 years, the East Bay Municipal Utility District has invested more than $60 million in conservation. Its total water consumption is now less than it was in the 1970s. Per-person usage has dropped to 136 gallons a day.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 18.7 million people, also has made major investments in conservation and efficiency. In 2008, its total water consumption was less than in 1999, even though its service area has grown by 2.3 million people.

To be sure, Southern California and the Bay Area could and should do more to improve their efficiency, since they pay a high price for water. These coastal areas also need to increase their reuse of water that now flows, wasted, into the ocean.

Yet Sacramento needs to confront reality. Lawmakers are planning to invest billions of dollars in water infrastructure in coming years, including money for improved efficiency. Does the city want to position itself to secure some of those funds? Or does it want to cling to old excuses while watering its driveways and waiting for inevitable legal challenges to its water practices?


FOR has been a powerful voice for more efficient use of
water in California’s state capital. Recently, FOR was
instrumental in the passage of state laws that require most
communities in California, including Sacramento, to
install and use water meters.We continue to push
Sacramento to speed up its installation of these meters,
which studies prove could reduce water waste by as much
as 20%. FOR will continue to push Sacramento to
implement water-conservation and conjunctive-use
programs so that the Capital is less dependent on heavy
diversions from area rivers. Read FORs comments on this plan (pdf).


Water meter

Read about it in the newspaper:


Water Forum

FOR is intensely engaged in the SacramentoWater Forum, which was formed to manage regional water supplies in a way that benefits and protects the lower American River, and its Environmental Caucus which negotiates regional water projects. FOR and the Forum recently secured new commitments from the water purveyors to ensure that key agreements are implemented and all parties are committed to water conservation and sustainable water use. FOR is working hard within the Forum to bring a more protective flow-standard water right before the StateWater Resources Control Board to ensure that the Bureau of Reclamation’s reservoir releases better protect the outstanding fishery and recreation values of the lower American River.

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