Celebrating a levee project that almost didn’t happen
Larry Munger clearly remembers the 1955 flood that devastated Yuba City.
Munger was one of about 100 people who attended the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency’s dedication ceremony for the Feather River West Levee Project 1 on Saturday at Shanghai Bend in Yuba City.
The $293 million project was dedicated to the victims of the 1955 flood.
“I lived in Sutter and I remember all the people evacuating and my grandparents lived in Yuba City and the river came right up to their house but didn’t damage it – they were kind of lucky,” Munger said, who was 10 years old at the time.
Not everyone was as lucky as Munger and his family, with about 38 people perishing in the disaster.
Munger, the District 3 Sutter County Supervisor, was one of many political leaders at the event, including Assemblyman James Gallagher.
“Right now, we’re sitting here with the project’s first phase being complete and you can almost forget that these projects almost didn’t happen,” Gallagher said. “Even with (Proposition) 1E passing, we hadn’t really put together a local agency or even really started the planning. We hadn’t passed any kind of local assessment and you needed local money in order to take advantage of Prop 1E.”
He said the community came together, especially people with years of experience surviving floods and working with the levees, to support the common cause of safety.
“Francis Silva, I call him Moses, we really don’t know how old he is he just came down the river in a basket, but since that time he’s always been a huge advocate for our levees,” Gallagher said.
Congressman John Garamendi acknowledged residents’ determination in not letting another flood ravage the area.
“You remember very, very well the loss of life that occurred here in the ’50s and the dangers that occurred in the intervening years,” Garamendi said. “We’ve all played a role in it, but we’ve been motivated by your determination to not let it happen again and that goes back a long way. It goes back to many of you working the sandbags during the high water events, and you know the risks, so after the flood has subsided you come back more determined. You’ve been at it a long time.”
Sen. Jim Nielsen said California has fallen behind on its infrastructure but projects like this are helping.
“I hope that the lessons of Oroville are learned and applied to the future and part of that is our levees,” Nielsen said. “We have levees that need attention in the bypasses also, and I remind people that bypasses are flood control facilities they are not habitats and parks. In fact, that’s the worst thing you can do.”
The Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency is fixing seepage issues along 44 miles of levees running parallel to the west bank of the Feather River, from the Thermalito Afterbay south to the Sutter Bypass.
Because of the seepage problems, the levees don’t provide 100-year flood protection as required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or meet the state’s requirement for 200-year flood protection for areas with more than 10,000 residents.
Work started in fall 2010 to evaluate the condition of the levee and develop the levee repair design. Levee construction started in June 2013 on a 1.5-mile stretch that includes Shanghai Bend.
More than 80 percent of the needed levee repairs involve the construction of slurry walls, some as deep as 110 feet. In a few select areas, seepage berms are being constructed on the land side of the levee. The Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency (SBFCA) was created in September 2007 by the counties of Sutter and Butte, the cities of Yuba City, Live Oak, Biggs and Gridley, and Levee Districts 1 and 9.
SBFCA is governed by a 13-member Board of Directors composed of elected officials from each of the eight member agencies.
“I still remember going over to the Yuba River and seeing it right up to the bridge – I still have that memory,” Munger said. “After the flood, I saw all the devastation with houses that moved off their foundations, dead animals and cows – it was a complete mess.”