Experts are warning that California’s state capital could be the next hot spot to experience massive flooding on catastrophe levels. Officials are admitting that one particular Sacramento neighborhood is in an area that never should have been settled, to begin with.
The neighborhood slopes downward from a levee that separates it from the American River, and even though officials said it should not have ever been settled, it is home to 100,000 residents. “I am just trying to imagine what three feet of water in my house would look like, and based on that, I moved things higher,” said Marion Townsend a 53-year-old resident. “And if the evacuation order comes, I want to know what I should grab.”
But models of the levee’s failure show not only a meager 3 feet of water inside homes. Some are predicting as much as 20 feet of water to flood Sacramento homes. As Northern Californians are recovering from wildfires and sifting through homes reduced to ash, officials in the state’s capital are struggling to prevent another type of natural disaster. If a levee were to break along the American River, which empties into the Sacramento River near downtown, water would start flowing into the city. Although floodgates could be quickly deployed to protect downtown Sacramento from a life-threatening deluge, the water would eventually seep in from other directions, covering much of the area in several feet of water, said Roger Ince, a Sacramento emergency coordinator.
“You are not going to see a wall of water coming into Sacramento, but you will see rapid flooding and people not able to get out of their homes, out of care facilities. They are trapped,” said Stephen Cantelme, chief of Sacramento County’s Emergency Services. “I am much more confident in our levees holding up than I was 10 years ago. . . . But I am concerned 200-year [flood protection] is not enough.”
Sacramento is more vulnerable to catastrophic flooding than any other major city in the United States except New Orleans, according to federal officials, a threat created by the city’s sunken geography. No one has forgotten the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
According to the Washington Post, levees and other flood defenses here and in the surrounding Central Valley have amassed up to $21 billion in needed repairs and upgrades, while Sacramento’s population has continued to grow. Just days before Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas and flooded Houston, a report from the California Department of Water Resources warned that “many flood facilities” in the Central Valley “face an unacceptably high chance of failure.” The report wanted those in Sacramento to take action immediately as winter storms approach.
More than 7 million California residents are at risk of flooding, and many don’t realize it. Flooding happens throughout the state, from rural communities to urban areas, at the base of hills and along the coast. In fact, every California County has received a flood-related emergency declaration in the past twenty years. – California Department of Water Resources press release.
Two back-to-back storms of similar caliber to the 1986 flood storm is all it would take to further devastate the vulnerable state of California. It could happen anytime, soon, and would submerge 25% of the highly populated state’s land in water.
“This isn’t science fiction,” said one of the authors of a 2010 report called Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario, Keith Porter, a research professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It’s a very realistic scenario, and it could happen at any time.”