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What Happens When California Floods?…Again


What Happens When California Floods?…Again

By Brenda Stewart

Temperatures in California year-round are a comfortable sunny 70 degrees. California is known for many things, but it’s the cool ocean breezes, wine country, big-city Los Angeles, big movie stars and celebrities, and so much more that bring attention to the state.

Unfortunately, so do the current wildfires and Earthquakes. Sadly, the entire west coast is getting attention, but for all the wrong reasons.

What is the Current Situation?


More than eight states are currently burning because of wildfires. The entire west coast is now affected by wildfires. It’s understandable that Californians are on edge. Unless you’re Mother Nature, the weather is unpredictable.

There are constant earthquakes happening in California. Recently, wildfires have become even more of a concern. Floods don’t generate as much fear these days, but they should, and here’s why.

The Great Flood of California happened from 1861-1862. Central Valley found itself under 15 ft of water. There is concern that could happen again, which would have devastating effects and do massive destruction to the state.

Melting glaciers, water evaporation from global warming, and increased potential for natural disasters are seen all across the country with extreme weather. All of these situations are directly related to climate change. There is concern that if history repeats itself, the Great Flood of California will happen again. This time, in biblical proportions.

So, What’s the Big Deal?

California has millions of acres of farmland, and they lead in agriculture. California alone produces approximately 13 percent of the United States food supply. Nearly all nuts consumed in the U.S. are from California. Also, between 40%-90% of vegetables and fruits are produced in California.

A quarter of California’s produce is exported globally. With $46 billion worth of food, one might say California’s agriculture is booming!

California has one of the largest spread regions with fertile soil and suitable weather for growing. It is more populated by people and animals now than in the 1800s. A quarter of the nation’s food supply originates here. Flooding is not at the forefront of anyone’s mind, as the current wildfires are what people are thinking about. However, a flood of such massive destruction would be a “Big Deal”.

Why Will the Central Valley Be the Most Adversely Affected?

The most vulnerable area for flooding is the Central Valley. The Valley stretches across miles of occupied land. It is about equal to the size of Massachusetts and Vermont combined.

To put it in perspective, Central Valley is as important to eaters as Silicon Valley is to technology innovation and start-ups.
Climate change is a concern like never before. The population of California continues to grow. Cities have expanded and pollutants are entering into our water systems.

The 1862 mega-flood changed the valley’s agriculture. It played a huge role in creating today’s high crop agricultural powerhouse. The crops that farmers have planted throughout the years have matured. They produce high amounts of produce which get distributed here in the U.S. and exported.

In the 1800s, around 500,000 people lived in California. Central Valley was sparsely populated. Today, the valley has a population of 6.5 million people and is essential to both the US and global food systems.

Long ago, cattle had free range of land, where biohazards were not as much of a concern. Today, several million cows are packed together in massive feedlots in the southern part of Central Valley. Their waste is often concentrated in open-air liquid manure pools, which are prone to be swept away by floodwaters.

Our evolving society also creates a risk for natural disasters. Loss of electricity during a flood can be fatal for vulnerable populations. Hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, for example, would suffer.

California is home to one of the nation’s most productive oil-producing counties. In a sizable storm, floodwaters could carry significant amounts of toxic petroleum and byproducts.

Nowadays, urban areas create sanitation threats. Pollutants like mold and pathogens borne from soil and sewage would spread across much of Central Valley. Concentrated amounts of animal manure, synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and other industrial chemicals would as well.

Flooding in the valleys is not uncommon because of the low-lying areas. Having many valleys makes it ideal for the “perfect storm”. But, in the Great Flood of 1862, there was less of a population. The valleys were not as built up as they are now with several towns threatened by potential floods.

Farming and agriculture have transformed since the 1800s. In 1862 the storm drowned an estimated 200,000 cattle.

Today, the Central Valley is home to approximately 4 million beef and dairy cows. The valley represents billions of dollars of cash crops. Most have taken years to establish and with one act of God, could be wiped out in a single flood.

How Is Flooding Affecting California’s Landscape?

So, will the Great Flood of California happen again? In short, all signs point to yes.

Scientists examined streams and riverbanks that drain through the Central Valley. What they found was astounding. Their research revealed that floods had occurred every 100-200 years.

Global warming and climate change affect changes in the atmosphere. It also changes the water temperatures and water levels. Eventually, California’s mix of precipitations will shift from snow to greater amounts of rain because of the warmth.

As the oceans warm and seawater evaporates, it feeds even bigger rivers that gush into the California coast, which in turn, increase the risk of sizable floods. Instead of a massive flood occurring every 200 years, we’ll find ourselves underwater approximately every 65 years. It is highly probable we will see another flood in California, by 2060.

How Can YOU Help and Prepare?

You may think to yourself, “Well, what can I do? I don’t have super powers to stop a flood.” No, you can’t. However, even one person’s actions can make a small impact and promote change. Improving and maintaining the health of our ecosystems starts with YOU!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Limit the amount of trash you accumulate. If you see trash in your neighborhood, the streets, your drainage grates, etc., pick it up and become part of the solution!

Organize a weekly or monthly cleanup in your community and get others involved! Creating volunteer opportunities is a great way to get communities involved. Start or join in on a cleanup.

Limit the number of hazards in your home. Try to buy all-natural cleaning products. One’s which use fewer chemicals can prevent runoff of more harmful chemicals from getting into our water supply.

Be Prepared! Make an Emergency Evacuation Kit!

A basic emergency kit for flooding’s should have these items:

  • Water – Bring enough for drinking and personal care. A gallon per day, per person, works. Aim to bring enough for 3+ days. 
  • Food and beverages— Make sure to bring enough for 3+ days. 
  • Radio – Ensure it is a battery radio. Also include a radio where you can broadcast the weather.
  • Dust Masks
  • An extra pack of batteries 
  • A battery-powered or solar flashlight 
  • Basic first aid kit  
  • A whistle – in case you need it to ask for help 
  • A plastic tarp + tape – to build a small shelter if needed 
  • Trash bags, plastic ties, and wet wipes 
  • Basic tools – a wrench or plier

We can’t stop mother nature from performing at her best… Or worst for that matter. We can look to each other and to organizations like Ocean Blue to help the cleanup of our oceans, beaches, and rivers.

Our Mission

As a grassroots environmental non-profit, Ocean Blue Project’s  Mission is to rehabilitate and conserve the world’s oceans, beaches, and rivers through:

  • Removing plastic from the Ocean
  • Beach and river cleanups
  • Solutions to keep pollutants from entering ecosystems
  • Collaborative community-driven service learning projects 
  • Youth education

Education and teaching about long-term effects and impacts are what help us to understand and connect to find more solutions. Those solutions start with YOU!

Author Bio: Brenda Stewart is a freelance copywriter and founder of Elevation Writing Company. She is an Air Force Veteran, has a Master’s in Public Health, and advocates for causes like ocean clean-ups and other environmental issues. She was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Brenda enjoys travel, beaches, warm weather, and Maryland crab cakes!