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Tropical Storm Barry is a reminder that Sacramento Valley has to stay 'prepared for a bigger flood event'

Experts say it's difficult to compare Sacramento and New Orleans, but the reality is Sacramento is widely considered one of America's most flood-prone major cities.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tropical Storm Barry was expected to rock Louisiana. Despite the projected power of the storm, people in the state prepared for a Hurricane Katrina-sized event. And for good reason — we're only 14 years removed from that hurricane and residents are still feeling the economic effects of its destruction.

But Louisiana was mostly spared from the brunt of the storm. Widespread flooding and power outages left some residents stranded. Pictures show businesses in small Louisiana towns with a few inches of water inside. And videos shows snakes and alligators on flooded streets.

Still, just the idea of the storm's potential destruction caused worry from officials — even those in as far west as the Sacramento Valley.

"Major flood events throughout Sacramento's history serve as reminders of the threat we face living behind levees," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Tyler Stalker told ABC10 in an email.


Although local flood experts say it's difficult to compare Sacramento and New Orleans, the reality is Sacramento is widely considered the second-most flood-prone major city in America, after New Orleans.

It's a reality that Sacramento officials are grappling with — what if it happens here?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District recently completed the new Folsom Dam auxiliary spillway and levee improvements from Folsom to downtown Sacramento, reinforcing one of the valley's flood protection structures.

And more improvement work is underway, too, including the 42-mile stretch of levee that surrounds the Natomas Basin, flood protection along the Sacramento and American rivers, and the widening the Sacramento Bypass. The projects total nearly $3 billion and are expected to be completed over the next few years. 

There are also plans to strengthen levees on the Sacramento River in the Pocket neighborhood, along Arcade Creek and on the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal, Stalker told ABC10. They also plan to raise Folsom Dam by 3 1/2 feet, increasing flood control storage space in Folsom Lake by about 326,000 gallons.


“While the significant investment to improve Sacramento's flood management infrastructure has and will continue to considerably reduce our risk of flooding, we can never completely eliminate all flood risk," Stalker explained.

According to Rick Johnson, executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, construction work on most of the projects are likely to take about five to seven years to complete.

It’s been more than two decades since the area’s flood defenses have been massively tested. Since the regional floods of ‘86 and ‘97, the region has invested $2 billion into levee upgrades and other work.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has a whopping 1,500 miles of levees and in spite of billions spent on shoring up many of the aging ones, Sacramento is still one of the most at-risk cities in America for river flooding.

"We must all remain vigilant and prepared for a bigger flood event," Stalker said.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Carlos Herrera.

WATCH MORE: Sloughhouse restaurant closed for the winter after heavy flooding