By Thomas Gilbert | Guest Commentary

OPINION – When I reflect on my experience living in Northern California, I can easily recall several moments of brilliance—the dominance of the San Francisco 49ers during the 1980’s, the electricity of the 2002 Sacramento Kings, and the thrill of the San Francisco Giants’ impressive run between 2010 and 2014. Not to mention Sacramento gaining national recognition with the 2017 critically acclaimed film, Lady Bird.

Unfortunately, it’s just as easy for me to remember the darker side of Northern California’s history… Natural Disasters! Earthquakes so severe that they leveled freeways, multi-year droughts resulting in crimpling reductions in agricultural production, wildfires that have devastated communities and destroyed our forests.

Thus far, I have been fortunate enough to avoid life changing impacts from those horrendous disasters – but as a longtime Sacramento resident, I have not been as blessed when it comes to flooding.

Historically, floods have presented the biggest danger to the Sacramento region. In the last 50 years Northern California has endured three significant high water flooding events – 1986, 1997, and 2005. Two of which were so damaging that the bottom floor of my home was inundated with more than five feet of frigid Sacramento River water, and we had to evacuate.  While my family and I survived relatively unscathed, these events and the potential catastrophic effect of a levy breach to the Natomas Community still shakes me to the core and reminds me of how unforgiving Mother Nature can be.

Flooding has profoundly impacted me and served as the catalyst for my decision to get involved in regional flood protection efforts. That’s why for several decades, I have served as a board member for Reclamation District No. 1000 (RD1000).

RD 1000 is responsible for providing flood protection and public safety to Sacramento residents, families, and businesses. We work around the clock to safely, efficiently, and responsibly maintain the exterior levees, the interior drainage system, and numerous storm-water pump stations.

RD1000’s role has become even more critical as our community has transformed from being predominately agricultural to a growing urban center. With our massive population growth and urbanization, especially in the Natomas area, the stakes are much higher to responsibly ensure the safety or our residents, businesses, and property.

For the cynical, it might seem ridiculous to be raising Flood Preparedness and Awareness on the heals of a multi-year drought. Nevertheless, here are my two responses to that:

  • After New Orleans, Sacramento is considered the next most vulnerable urban area in the nation when it comes to the danger of flooding.
  • Despite the current drought, this topic is extremely relevant, especially because long-range weather forecasts predict mega floods will decimate California in the future due to climate change.

It would be irresponsible to ignore these realities. That’s why I urge all area residents to take the threat of flooding seriously. It’s a great time to learn what to do during a flood and how to take precautions to protect your family, property, and businesses. This can include understanding the risks of floods and even how to prepare an emergency kit and an escape plan.

Flood Preparedness Week should be an early warning for all of us — the next flood is worthy of our respect.


Thomas Gilbert is a Garden Highway resident and currently serves as the Board President of Reclamation District 1000.