By Kristin Withrow, CSDA Communications Specialist; Photo Credit Josh Hild on Unsplash
Originally published in California Special Districts Magazine, January-February 2023
The Natomas Basin sits in the confluence of several waterways. It is the low-lying region between the American River, Cross Canal, Natomas East Main Drainage Canal and the Sacramento River. Before the area was urbanized, the farmland was submerged along with the city of Sacramento during the “pineapple express” weather pattern that settled over the area in 1862. With nearly 30 feet of water covering most of Sacramento county, the high-water mark was impressive and devastating. It can be tempting to seek comfort in the hope that today’s modern infrastructure makes widespread flooding an impossibility today.
Severe storms in more modern times warn of the ongoing reality. In 1986, 1997, 2006 and 2017 the rivers rose dramatically from storms hovering overhead for days. News footage shows the powerful sweeping rivers bursting their banks, breaching levees, wiping out roads and drowning homes and businesses. After New Orleans, the RD1000 service area is considered the second most vulnerable region to flooding in the nation.
In Natomas, the levees, canals and drainage systems are under the vigilant supervision of Reclamation District 1000. Since its inception in 1911, the district has provided flood protection and public safety to Natomas in several ways that require their ongoing dedication. The region has continued to add neighborhoods and commercial centers over the years. A levee breach in this area would not only be devastating to the many businesses, homes and roads that now occupy the area – but it could also result in the loss of life. In 2014, Congress approved the Natomas Levee Improvement Project to provide 200 year flood protection to the 65,000 acres within the Natomas Basin and the 130,000 residents.
Aside from the vast tasks undertaken by the project to reinforce and renew the various mechanisms utilized for flood control, Reclamation District 1000 has recognized one of the primary lines of public protection is the lines of communication they’ve developed to inform the public of their efforts.
“This new effort provides valuable information about our intricate system of levees and lift -pumps that protect lives and ensures a flood-safe future for the Natomas Basin,” said Kevin King, the General Manager of RD1000. “Despite the current drought, this topic is extremely relevant, especially because long-range weather forecasts predict mega floods to ravish California in the future due to climate change.”
The awareness program has included a host of activities to reach those living and working in the Basin, including:
- Community meetings (homeowner associations, businesses, neighborhood groups)
- Streaming radio and video content
- Social media & Dedicated Website (4Natomas.org)
- News releases & media coverage
- Direct mailing
“Our goal is to provide Natomas residents and businesses with resources regarding flood protection,” King said. “We’re trying to reach as many people as possible in our service area to ensure they can better appreciate the threat of flooding, understand the infrastructure needs and the necessary funding for improvements.”
Communications and events focus on flood preparedness, including knowing the risks to the immediate area and having pre-planned responses for evacuation and notification. The district’s educational efforts include: Regular articles to N Magazine to keep the public informed of critical infrastructure improvements; an informative flood preparedness coloring book for children; a separate dedicated website (www.4Natomas.org) with significant resources that blends historical context and the status of the district’s current flood control system to provide the public with first-hand knowledge to gain support for the needed upgrades in the system. The educational program is intended to raise awareness about the dangers of flooding and the need to invest in upgrading the district’s flood control infrastructure.
The creative public outreach efforts employed by the district serve as an inspirational model for any special district undertaking the challenge of change in their operational area. With a public that is often blissfully unaware of the essential services provided, it is important for special districts to reach out through many channels to help the community gain critical knowledge of the inner workings and “behind-the-scenes” function of the utilities and structures the public unknowingly relies on.
For more information on Reclamation District 1000, visit their websites at www.rd1000.org and www.4Natomas.org or follow them on Facebook @reclamationdistrict1000 or Twitter @Sac_RD1000.