Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency to Provide Flood Protection to Natomas Basin

The firm advises and represents the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) on environmental review, right-of-way acquisition, habitat mitigation, and Williamson Act compliance for the Natomas Levees Improvement Program (NLIP) in the Natomas Basin north of the City of Sacramento.  SAFCA is a joint powers agency consisting of the County of Sutter, City of Sacramento, County of Sacramento, American River Flood Control District, Reclamation District No. 1000, the Sutter County Water Agency, and the Sacramento County Water Agency.   SAFCA was created under the SAFCA Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement, dated January 17, 1991, and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency Act, Cal. Water Code Appendix Sections 130- et seq.   The Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement authorizes SAFCA to provide flood protection within the jurisdictions of its member agencies.
SAFCA’s mission is to provide the Sacramento metropolitan area with at least a 100-year level of flood protection as quickly as possible, while seeking a 200-year or greater level of flood protection over time.  To that end, SAFCA is empowered to coordinate regional and local efforts to finance, provide, and maintain facilities and works necessary to ensure a reasonable and prudent level of flood protection within its boundaries, as determined by the agency. 

Based on recent data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, SAFCA has identified the Natomas Basin--located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers and including portions of the County of Sutter, the City of Sacramento, and the County of Sacramento--as being at a particularly acute risk for flooding.  As stated in the Final Environmental Impact Report on the Natomas Levee Improvement Program Landside Improvements Project, certified on November 29, 2007 by the SAFCA Board of Directors, SAFCA has adopted a goal of providing 100-year flood protection to this vulnerable area by the year 2010. 

The Natomas Basin is protected by a perimeter levee system that protects approximately 53,000 acres of improved agricultural, conservation, and urban lands.  Lands owned by the Sacramento International Airport account for more than 10 percent of this total.  An uncontrolled flood in the Natomas Basin would cause substantial direct damage to structures in the Basin, estimated at $7.4 billion, and could pose a serious threat of injury and loss of life.

The Natomas Basin is a flood plain surrounded by existing levees on the West holding back the Sacramento River, on the East containing the Pleasant Grove Creek Canal and Natomas East Main Drainage Canal, on the South by levees containing the American River, and on the North by levees containing the Natomas Cross Canal.  To provide at least a 100-year level of flood protection as soon as possible and a 200-year or greater level of protection over time, SAFCA intends to reinforce the existing levees and, in some places, build new levees.  The construction program and enhancement of habitat for special-status species is expected to cost more than $600 million.  

SAFCA has been implementing the NLIP in phases.  Some levee work was completed in 2007; work on other levee portions is scheduled to be undertaken and completed in 2008.   Construction of additional phases is scheduled to occur in 2009 and 2010.  Along the Sacramento River east levee and the Natomas Cross Canal, SAFCA will construct an adjacent setback levee including seepage berms, relief wells and cutoff walls.  The seepage berms involve the placement of new dirt on the land side of the levee to minimize the influence of water seeping from the River underneath the existing levee, which can undermine the levee.  The relief wells also remove water from beneath the levee foundation during elevated river stages.  Cutoff walls are low permeability walls constructed within the levee embankment to reduce the seepage of water under the levee.

In addition to the levee improvements, SAFCA will modify the Reclamation District No. 1000 West Drainage Canal, construct a new drainage canal between the West Drainage Canal and Elkhorn Reservoir, and relocate the Riverside Canal and the Elkhorn Canal downstream of Elkhorn Reservoir.  As necessary, SAFCA will remove encroachments from the water side of the Sacramento River east levee to ensure that the levee meets the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers design criteria.  Along the Pleasant Grove Creek Canal and Natomas East Main Drainage Canal, SAFCA will widen the west levee and construct seepage berms and cutoff walls.  To generate earthen materials or these improvements, SAFCA plans to recontour land to create marsh and upland habitat.  To mitigate the impacts of the Project on habitat, SAFCA will plant grasslands and install woodland plantings.

The firm is responsible for all right-of-way acquisition for the NLIP.  The NLIP will necessitate SAFCA’s acquisition of all or part of more than 100 properties in separate ownership.  As of this writing, the firm has helped SAFCA acquire properties consisting of more than 1,000 acres by voluntary purchase or settlement of eminent domain litigation.  In total, the firm has filed seven eminent domain actions, with more to come.  The firm has also filed more than 10 petitions for entry with the Sutter and Sacramento County Superior Courts to facilitate archeological and geotechnical studies of prospective property acquisitions for the project.