Sacramentans have long battled with the floodwaters from the Sacramento and American Rivers. Native Americans warned John Sutter of an “inland sea” that covered much of the valley floor each winter, recommending he locate Sutter's Fort on high ground. Later settlers arriving in this region opted to stay near the river's edge for water supply, food source and ease of transportation.
Major floods in 1850 and again in 1862 covered much of Sacramento prompting City officials to straighten the American River to its modern course and eventually raising many of the western city streets by as much as ten feet. Great floods in 1907 and 1909 spurred the design of a comprehensive Sacramento Flood Control System including levees on the lower American River protecting Sacramento. Again in 1950, floodwaters from the American River covered much of the area now known as Campus Commons.
The first major upgrade to the original system occurred in the 1950's with the construction of Folsom Dam and extension of the levees upstream to their present terminal. Folsom and the new levee system saved Sacramento from flooding in 1955.
After a quiet period, in which many were lulled into a false sense of security, the February 1986 “Pineapple Express” roared into California, dropping ten inches of rain over an eleven day period and straining the flood control system to its limit. Only a fortuitous slowdown in the rainfall combined with a heroic flood fight on the east levee of the Sacramento River stood between Sacramento and another catastrophic flood. This event, however, spurred a regional effort to repair our aging flood control infratructure and seek improvements to handle larger floods.