FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT
HISTORICAL FLOODING
 
March 1911
The headline in the March 8, 1911, issue of the Salinas Daily Index described storm conditions in the area graphically: "Disastrous effects of the storm in the Salinas Valley is unprecedented." The following account in the paper described the flood conditions within the general area:

This storm was the most disastrous in the history of Monterey County and the damaged property is unprecedented. It is reported that more than 2,000 acres of valuable farming land has been destroyed along the course of the Salinas River by the cutting away of the banks of that stream, which is now a raging torrent, freighted with debris, from its source to its mouth on the Bay of Monterey, near Moss Landing… At 10 o'clock the river was said to be higher than at any time since the winter of 1862.

Flood conditions in the Spreckels area were representative of many sections of the county, as described in the Salinas Daily Index.

At Spreckels, all the lowlands are flooded and the water comes to within thirty feet of the end of the factory, which is protected by a heavy rock embankment. The river is nearly a mile wide at some points there.

The electric light plant and the pumping plant, as well as two large oil tanks near the factory, are half submerged. The No. 2 tank has been torn loose… Barns and outbuildings and farmhouses all along the river bottom south of Spreckels are under water, and tops of a few being all that remain. Everything not securely anchored has been swept away.
January 1914
The storms of January 1914 did significant damage throughout Monterey County. The following account appeared in the January 26 issue of the Salinas Daily Index:

Flood conditions prevailed today everywhere throughout the Salinas Valley. Bridges have been carried away, the railroad trains tied up, telephone and telegraph service interrupted, and inestimable damage done as a result of the torrential rains of Saturday night and Sunday. Salinas has been isolated as far as communications south to Soledad and north to Castroville is concerned…

Damage to bridges in the county was staggering. On January 27, the Salinas Daily Index described conditions as follows:

Monterey County has suffered an enormous loss through the damage and destruction of bridges. Passengers arriving from Soledad and Gonzales say private reports received at those places indicate the loss of all the bridges south of Chualar. The Bradley, San Ardo, San Lucas, King City, Soledad bridges are gone. Two spans of the Gonzales bridge have gone out. At Chualar, one end of the bridge has sunk two feet and is one foot out of line. At Gonzales, the people were this morning constructing a cable line over which to send food and supplies on the other side.

Damage to these bridges was estimated to exceed $300,000, and damage to properties throughout the county came to over $1 million.

 
1931
A Christmas storm in 1931 brought flood conditions to many portions of Monterey County. Precipitation was dramatic; on the Carmel River, the San Clemente Dam overflowed capacity. As noted in a December issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald: " Fed by storm swollen streams, San Clemente Dam staged the most sensational rise in history last night, climbing 25 feet in 15 hours." The storm continued for 5 days, bringing damage to Carmel Valley, Big Sur, and the Monterey area.
 
February 1938
In February 1938, the Salinas River again flooded. The headline in the Salinas Index-Journal of February 12 stated: "No, not the Mississippi-just the Salinas River." Conditions in the county were serious.

Going out with a roar that was hardly heard above the driving rain and lashing flood waters of the Salinas River, 208 feet (2 spans) of the Soledad bridge on U.S. Highway 101 was swept downstream at 9:15 p.m. Friday night, adding wreckage to the swollen river which by Saturday afternoon appeared to have reached the peak of one of the severest floods in the valley in years.

At a dozen points along the 70-mile river front from King City to the coast, the churning water brought to an unprecedented high by the heavy rains in the mountains and valley, brought damage to bridges, crops and roads, halted traffic and marooned an estimated 60 families along the River Road on the west side of the river.

1941
The winter of 1940-1941 produced flood conditions within several areas of Monterey County, as recorded in the March 4, 1941, issue of the Salinas Index-Journal.

The River Road a half-mile south of Spreckels was flooded and motorists were advised not to attempt to negotiate it, as it also was under water at other points southward. The Arroyo Seco road is closed to traffic, as is the Pinnacles route out of Soledad. A washout also has blocked the Jamesburg road in the upper Carmel Valley. Both the piers and the foundations of the approaches to the Toro Creek Bridge have been washed out by flood waters, making the span unsafe for traffic.

Streets were flooded at Soledad, and old-timers said that the water was the highest since 1910. At the Trescony Ranch in the San Lucas district, 23 inches of rain has fallen this year to make it the wettest sustained period in history and the largest amount of rainfall for any season since 1890.

January 1943
A dramatic storm hit the Monterey Peninsula in January 1943, bringing flood conditions to coastal areas of Monterey County. The following description appeared in the January 22 issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald:

A downpour of cloudburst proportion flooded upper reaches of the Carmel Valley during Monterey Peninsula's worst storm in a quarter century it was revealed as reports began coming in from the outlying regions today. While counting the storm damage continued to occupy local residents, it was reported that 5.50 inches of rain had fallen at San Clemente dam in the 48 hour period ending at 9 a.m. today.

During most of yesterday, over 6 feet of water was thundering over the spillway at the rate of 8,000 cu. ft. per second, enough to fill the dam 7 times each day. It is estimated by water company engineers that enough water passed over the spillway during the storm to supply Monterey Peninsula for the next four years.

February 1945
A dramatic storm hit Monterey County in February 1945. However, due to the prevailing dry conditions, no appreciable damage resulted from this downpour. The following account appeared in the Salinas Californian on February 2:

Heavy rains which drenched Salinas and Monterey County yesterday and last night brought a total of 1.69 inches of rainfall in a 36-hour period…

The heavy rainfall was general all over the county, including the southern section of the county, with a report from the San Lucas of 3.82 inches for the entire storm. The downpour ended one of the driest spells on record for this time of year and was welcomed by farmers and cattlemen all through the state.

Little damage was reported in this locality, all creeks were up but there were no floods.

January 1952
As noted in the Salinas Californian of January 16, 1952 was another of the significant flood years within Monterey County.

The rampaging Salinas River, swelled by 6 days of heavy rain, today had left its banks, flooded Spreckels Junction and forced evacuation by boat of several families in that area ala also in Salinas on East John Street. The Salinas-Monterey Highway was closed at Spreckels Junction bridge and probably will not be opened until tomorrow…

Old-timers said the river was the highest it has been since the 1911 flood, and reports this morning from King City said that the stream in that area was rough and high. A crest of the river was expected today when water from yesterday's rain in the mountains reaches this area…

January 1956
The Salinas area of the county was threatened with potential flood conditions in January 1956. However, conditions never reached a critical stage as described in the Salinas Californian of January 26.

Rainfall in the Salinas Valley yesterday and this morning has raised the level of the Salinas River to an all time high. The crest passed Spreckels about 10:30 a.m. and forced the closing of the Hilltown bridge early this afternoon.

There was more water in the river now than was the case in pre-Christmas storms (1955). However, the water is flowing faster this time, principally because most of the brush and leaves in the channel washed away during the Christmas rains.

April 1958
The torrential rains of early April 1958 brought flood conditions to numerous counties in northern California. Monterey County was no exception, as outlined in the Salinas Californian on April 3.

Flood water swept through Monterey County today as streams in the Salinas and Carmel Valley watersheds overflowed their banks, closed roads, endangered residents, drowning poultry, and damaging homes. The disaster proclaimed through the state yesterday by Governor Goodwin Knight became a reality early this morning after a near record cloudburst slashed across the country, accompanied by high winds. This was the overall picture today, even as the weatherman warned that additional heavy rain squalls are expected tonight:

  1. The Carmel river has gone over its banks flooding numerous home tracks bordering the river the length of the valley.
  2. The Nacimiento dam was reported filled and water is being released slowly to take off the peak.
  3. Nearly 3-1/2 inches of rain in 24 hours in the Arroyo Seco has turned the placid stream into a raging torrent ripping through summer cabin sites on its way to the already swollen Salinas river. In the Greenfield area, a marooned family was rescued by Army helicopters.
  4. The Salinas River has overflowed its banks in numerous places, causing the closing of the River and East Garrison Roads. Water may overflow the Salinas-Monterey Highway as a result of the record flow in the Arroyo Seco River.
  5. San Lorenzo Creek overflowed its banks in King City and spread through a chicken ranch, drowning 23,000 birds.
  6. Coast Highway 1 to the Big Sur area was closed to automobile traffic by numerous slides.
February 1962
The Salinas Californian carried the following account of flood conditions on February 9, 1962:

Heavy rains fell on Monterey County last night and this morning, leaving more than an inch of water throughout the Salinas Valley…

In Salinas, there was some flooding along South Abbott Street, in front of the California Rodeo grounds, on North Main Street, along Nacional Street and Pacific Park and at the end of Palma Drive in Serra Park.

The Salinas River did not leave its banks and the flooding described above was the result of localized drainage problems.

 
January 1966
Flood conditions along the length of the Salinas River caused extensive damage during the storm of January 1966. Most of this damage was to agricultural crops; over 32,000 acres were inundated, at an estimated loss of $6,572,000. The cities in the county experienced some flooding and damage, although the rural areas and agricultural production were the most affected. As noted in the Salinas Californian on December 7:

The Salinas River came booming down its bed during the early morning hours today, and by 9:00 a.m. was flowing from abutment to abutment under the new bridge on the Monterey-Salinas Highway.

The river peaked at Bradley at 4:30 a.m. this morning, some three feet above the level reached in the 1958 floods. The crest is expected to hit Salinas about 11 o'clock tonight according to Loran Bunte of the Monterey County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

The mouth of the river is free, however, Bunte said, and flooding if any, will be minor.

1969
The year 1969 was perhaps the most severe flood year in Monterey County. There were two distinct floods-one at the end of January and one at the end of February. Each of these resulted in Monterey County being declared a disaster area. In each flood, both the Salinas and Carmel Rivers went on a rampage. Damage from the storms was extremely costly. As noted in the Monterey Peninsula Herald of January 27: "County officials said they were certain that the $6.5 million flood damage caused along the Salinas River in 1966, of which 4 million was in Monterey County alone, would be exceeded."

Conditions within the county were described as follows in the Salinas Californian on January 27:

The Salinas River cut a multi-million dollar swath of damage through the Salinas Valley from Bradley to the Pacific Ocean today. The Valley has been awash in what County Water Engineer Loran Bunte calls the 100-year flood since Saturday evening. A flood crest only slightly lower than that which passed Spreckels at 40,000 cu. ft./sec. early this morning, is rolling up river from King City this afternoon. The Monterey County Flood Control and Water Conservation District office and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers say flooding will continue through Wednesday.

Monterey County Administrator and Civil Defense Director Walter Mansfield declared the county a disaster area Sunday. His declaration triggers the mechanism through which the county may be compensated with federal funds for public facilities damaged by the flood.

Salinas Valley agriculture, which sustained a $3,755,000 loss in the 1966 flood, will almost certainly be hit harder this year.

One month later, the Salinas River again flooded. Once more, much damage occurred, as noted in the Salinas Californian on February 26.

The Salinas River, fast, deep and a mile wide, flowed as flood crest through the Salinas Valley this morning, cutting a swath of muddy destruction.

Route 1 was closed at 10:30 a.m. at Twin Bridges near Nashua Road as the river's crest surged toward the ocean, overflowing the highway and drowning the artichoke field delta around Mulligan Hill.

The city of Salinas, which underwent some anxious moments fretting about the possibility of urban flooding last night, remained high and dry as the crest passed. City and county officials had feared a breakthrough by the river in the old Alisal Slough near the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company plant south of town, and the possible intrusion of flood water into the city's industrial area. But it didn't come, although lake-like ponds of surface water now ring the entire Salinas area.

February 1973
Flood conditions occurred again in the Salinas area and other portions of the county in February 1973, as noted in the Salinas Californian on February 13:

A fifth straight day of rain in the Salinas Valley created power failures, closed some Monterey County schools, and added to the mounting alarm of local farmers who face substantial revenue losses from the delay in planting spring crops…

The principal flooding problem in Salinas has occurred on Williams Road near Alisal High School, according to Tom Wong, of City Public Works Department. The water has been channeled down Williams Road from the foothills and nearby farmland, Wong said. But so far the flooding within the city hasn't been serious.

1978
In 1978, flood conditions again occurred in many areas of Monterey County, as noted in the Salinas Californian on February 13:

Pounding weekend rains have left Salinas Valley farmers looking at an estimated $20,000,000 in flood damages today. Damage was concentrated along the banks of the Salinas River from San Ardo out to the sea.

More than 20,000 of the valley's 200,000 irrigated acres of land were covered with overflow waters from the Salinas River at some point Saturday or yesterday. As much as 1,000 acres of the valleys prime farmlands could be flooded beyond agricultural use this year.

The assessment of damages, exceeding those of even the valley's 1969 flood, comes today from Flood Control Engineer Loran Bunte and Agricultural Commissioner Richard Nutter.

Bunte said the $20,000,000 estimate is based upon his staff's assessment of damages as extensive but perhaps not quite as severe as those of 1969, placed at about $16,000,000. Allowing for inflation, that puts the new flood at about $20,000,000 he said. Damage would have been far more severe if not for the flood control capacities of both Nacimiento and San Antonio dams, Bunte said. Two dams, almost bone dry two months ago, was holding 290,000 acre feet of water at Nacimiento and 137,000 acre feet at San Antonio this afternoon. That puts Nacimiento at peak holding capacities already, and with some water being released over the weekend to leave required flood control storage reserves.

March 1983
Heavy rains caused extensive flooding and erosion on March 3, 1983, in the Salinas River Valley. Farmland and roadways were damaged, and Monterey County was declared a disaster area. The unofficial peak discharge at Spreckels gage was 63,172 cuffs, close to a 50-year flood. (The USGS has not verified the Spreckels gage discharge.) The San Antonio and Nacimiento Dams and associated reservoirs aided in attenuating the flows that occurred in the valley.
 
January 1995
Monterey County experienced prolonged and sustained precipitation in January 1995 resulting in extensive flooding throughout the region. Most river valleys were affected, with major damage experienced in the Pajaro Valley and Carmel Valley. On January 9 and 10, 1995, Monterey County was subjected to an intense winter storm during which up to 6 inches of rainfall was received in some areas. The Monterey County Water Resources Agency rated the storm as a 10- to 20-year event.

Five localized areas within the Carmel Valley area were significantly affected by downstream flooding of the Carmel River: Camp Stephani, the Robles Del Rio area of Carmel Valley village, the area adjacent to the Schulte Road Bridge, the Rio Road area adjacent to Highway 1, and Mission Fields.

The January 1995 flood damaged 125 residences resulting in an estimated damage cost of approximately $2.5 million. In addition, an estimated $927,000 in damage to public facilities and utilities also occurred. Various agencies and organizations were involved in the response to the flood. The Monterey County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated by the Office of Emergency Services (OES), three "Incident Command Posts" were established in the flooded areas, and the Emergency Broadcast System was utilized.

The County Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency, the Governor declared a state of emergency in Monterey County and other affected counties, and President Clinton declared the State of California a "Major Disaster Area," designated as "FEMA 1044-DR-CA."

Shortly after the January 1995 flood, the Monterey County Water Resources Agency made a number of recommendations for corrective actions to the County Board of Supervisors. These recommendations included the installation of better communications equipment and procedures, and encouraging floodplain resident responsibility through the establishment of "Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Plans." The Board Report also outlined recommendations for improving the condition of the "Carmel Valley Coordinated Emergency Response Plan," which had been in draft form since 1990 and designating Mission Fields and the Rio Road area as "Communities at Risk" in the Carmel River Flood Plan in the County's Multi-Hazard Emergency Plan.

 
March 1995
From March 10-13, 1995, Monterey County experienced a second significant winter storm which resulted in sustained precipitation falling on already-saturated watersheds. Devastating flooding occurred throughout the County, particularly along the Carmel, Arroyo Seco, Salinas, and Pajaro Rivers. Damage was extensive throughout the County with virtually every community affected. Pajaro, Castroville, Mission Fields, Carmel Valley, Cachagua, Carmel Highlands, Spreckels, and Big Sur sustained devastating damage. Over 1,500 residences were damaged, including 60 homes which were declared uninhabitable. In addition, an estimated 100 businesses were affected, and the tourism industry sustained substantial losses for a period of several months.

In all, over 11,000 people were directly affected, and major portions of the County's agricultural lands subjected to widespread destruction. California was again declared a Federal Disaster Area designated as FEMA 1046-DR-CA.

In particular, flooding of the Salinas, Carmel, and Pajaro Rivers forced mass evacuations in San Ardo, King City, Greenfield, Soledad, Gonzales, Chualar, Spreckels, the River Road area, parts of Salinas, Castroville, Moss Landing, Pajaro, and the Carmel Valley.

Damage to Private Property:

The March floods resulted in County-wide devastation to private property resulting in over 11,000 evacuations and damage to 1,500 homes and 110 businesses. Following is a summary of the damage which occurred in each community:

Carmel Valley 400 residences damaged
  68 businesses damaged
  2,500 evacuations
 

 

Mission Fields 220 residences damaged
  Total evacuation of all residences
   
Robles Del Rio 80 residences damaged
   
Cachagua 100-150 residences damaged
   
Pajaro All residences (600+) and businesses damaged
  2,500 (out of a total population of 5,000) evacuations
   
Castroville 312 residences damaged
  38 businesses damaged
  1,320 evacuations
Spreckels 13 residences damaged

Damage to Public Facilities:

At the height of the flood on March 13, 63 roads and 15 bridges were closed, including the Highway 1 bridge over the Carmel River. The closure of the Highway 1 bridge over the Carmel River resulted in the complete elimination of access to portions of Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, and Big Sur for a period of several days, requiring evacuations to take place with helicopters. Other significant effects to public facilities and services included the following:

  • Of the 63 roads and 15 bridges which were closed, 62 roads and three bridges sustained damage.
  • Public and private water systems were damaged, affecting approximately 3,500 homes and businesses. Eight large water systems and over fifty small systems were affected with the largest being Castroville (1,350 connections). Many residents were without domestic water service for extended periods. A number of areas were required to boil domestic water prior to use until the water quality was confirmed as safe.
  • Sewage treatment facilities and private septic systems along all three major rivers (Carmel, Salinas, and Pajaro) were flooded and untreated sewage was released into the rivers. The amount of untreated sewage released could not be confirmed, but it may have been many thousands of gallons. Major treatment plants affected included Carmel Ranch, Watsonville, King City, Soledad, and Gonzales.
  • Gas and electric service provided by Pacific Gas and Electric were affected by the storm, resulting in serious disruptions in service to widespread areas.
  • Many public facilities and services were closed or interrupted, including public schools in affected communities.
  • Zmudowski State Beach was closed as a result of the discovery of 27 barrels of potentially hazardous materials on the beach
February 1998
In February 1998, a series of "El Niño" winter storms hit various parts of California, and particularly Monterey County. Close timing of the rainfall events contributed to intense flooding, in that heavy rain would continually hit ground that was still saturated from the previous rain. An estimated 50 roads and highways were closed or restricted, in most cases due to washouts, landslides, and mudslides. Several communities were evacuated, particularly the entire town of Pajaro near Watsonville, all residents of the Sherwood Lake Mobile Home Park near Carr Lake in Salinas, and portions of Bolsa Knolls and Toro Estates. Drinking water quality warnings remained in effect for certain areas for some time afterward. By the end of the first week of February, at least 6,600 homes and businesses had been without power for varying periods of time. The State Governor declared Monterey County, amongst others, a disaster area.

The most significant type of damage involved land and mudslides. In particular, the Las Lomas area experienced severe damage of eight residential parcels which Monterey County acquired, through the Federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, removing all property improvements. Each parcel was subsequently rezoned to "open space" in perpetuity.

County-wide, losses resulting from the February 1998 events are estimated at over $38 million, with specifically agriculture-related losses totaling over $7 million and involving approximately 29,000 damaged acres.