Earthquakes aren’t the only natural disasters in California. Floods are actually quite common in the Golden State, especially in the regions listed below. Most of the floods in California are caused by high levels of precipitation, snowmelt, and levee breaches, but other natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and mudslides can also lead to water damage along the West Coast.
No matter where you live, floods and water damage can devastate your home and your health. Take the right precautions to protect yourself from floods by getting the proper professional treatment for your home after you experience a water damage event. Here are the top three spots in California prone to floods and water damage:
1. Flood damage in Sacramento
The city of Sacramento sits at the confluence of two of the Central Valley’s major natural river systems, the American River and the Sacramento River. Historically, Sacramento has been prone to frequent flooding, as with much of California’s Central Valley. Rainfall and snowmelt in the springtime generated frequent river overflows, creating vast, seasonal lakes in the lowlands of the valley. The Sacramento and American Rivers served as the main drainage system for the region, with water flowing out through the delta and into the San Francisco Bay.
During the California Gold Rush of the early 1850s, construction of waterway canals began in the Sacramento region. Many of these original levee systems are still used today. In the mid 20th century the US Army Corp of Engineers built a series of dams along the American River, most notably in Folsom and Auburn, which controlled sudden flows of water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Nowadays the dams and levees that lead water safely from the foothills to the delta are considered woefully inadequate.
In 2006 the California Department of Water Resources released a report titled The Flood Crisis in California’s Central Valley. The department found that the risk of flooding in Sacramento, combined with the concentrated population in the region and the crumbling infrastructure of waterways, made for the most flood-prone region in the United States.
Indeed, the Sacramento area was the victim of localized flooding in the winter of 1995, when intense rainfall overwhelmed levee, drainage, and sewer systems. The threat of large-scale floods in the Central Valley, especially Sacramento, remains to this day. Governmental agencies tasked with updating the crumbling infrastructure of the Sacramento waterways continue to brace for the impact of the next big flood. Yet this region of California is significantly behind the curve in terms of flood protection. Other flood-prone cities, like St. Louis, Dallas, and Kansas City, are rated as having 500-year protection levels. Sacramento, on the other hand, has only a 100-year protection level rating.
2. Flood damage in the North Coast
The Northern California coastline is one of the wettest regions in the United States. The so-called “Pineapple Express” (warm air currents from the Hawaiian Islands) meets with cool ocean waters from the Pacific Ocean along the northern coast of California, developing into precipitation nearly year-round. Showers, fog, and occasional snowstorms west of the coastal mountain ranges create a region filled with rivers and streams for natural drainage. Man-made dams, intended to control sudden water surges, have occasionally backfired, causing extreme disasters.
In December of 1964 several days of downpours and an early snowmelt caused every river in Humboldt, Del Norte, and Mendocino counties to reach record-breaking levels. Massive river overflows flooded the region for weeks, and much of the population was stranded when roads leading into and out of the North Coast were washed away. The Thousand Year Flood, as it was called, killed at least 19 people and led to over $100 million in property damage.
Floods aren’t the only water-damage worry along California’s North Coast. The region is susceptible to tsunamis as well. In 1964 a tsunami from an earthquake off the Alaskan coast devastated the coastal town of Crescent City, California. The Japanese earthquake of 2011 led to a tsunami warning for the North Coast, although minimal damage was actually reported. The North Coast’s geographical location makes it a prime target for earthquake-based tsunamis from all over the northern Pacific Ocean.
3. Flood damage in Southern California
When people think of Southern California they usually think of sunshine, movie stars, and palm trees. Most of the time they’re right, but that doesn’t mean that Southern California, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and San Diego, isn’t susceptible to occasionally floods. In fact, because the region typically receives sparse rainfall, Southern California population centers are particularly ill-prepared for sudden storms.
Fewer natural rivers mean fewer drainage routes for the water that collects during rainy seasons. In the winter of 2010 the Southern California coast experienced just such a situation. Three large storm systems over the course of two weeks led to widespread flooding in L.A. and San Diego.
In Southern California floods also cause another natural disaster: mudslides. Development in large urban areas has pushed buildings to the edge of the cliffs and hillsides. Because natural means of water drainage and erosion are stifled by the cement sprawl of Southern California cities, the only exposed areas of dirt—the steep hills and cliffs—quickly turn into mud. When oceanfront property turns into ocean-floor property, homes lose their value rapidly.
Flight, then Fight
If floodwaters are in danger of reaching your home it’s best to take all necessary precautions, follow the instructions of public safety officials, and if necessary evacuate the area immediately. California residents should keep a disaster kit handy in case of floods, fires, earthquakes or any other natural disaster.
When you can safely enter your home again, it’s time to begin the clean-up process. Because floodwaters oftentimes contain high levels of contaminants, and because standing water in a home can cause mold infestations to grow quickly, it’s best to get professional help with the restoration of your property.
Indoor environmental specialists can test the air inside your home to make certain that dangerous varieties of mold aren’t festering between your walls. Remediation professionals can see to the safe and swift restoration of your home before its structural integrity is compromised. In the wake of a flood or other water damage event, hiring a certified water damage technician is the correct first step towards making your home habitable again.