Tehama, California Elevating Homes

The City of Tehama, California, located adjacent to the Sacramento River in the northern Central Valley, has experienced the impacts of climate change first hand as the potential for more frequent and severe floods increases. The city has endured nine floods since 1940, with six of those floods taking place in the last 40 years. All of the approximately 200 homes in the city are located in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Special Flood Hazard Area.

The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) first proposed a form of protection, building a “Ring Levee” around the city to protect it from flooding. The problem with that option is the city would have had to maintain the levee and homes right next to the river would have had to be demolished or moved.1  Instead of adopting a protection strategy, Tehama chose to accommodate Sacramento River flooding. In the mid 2000’s, 38 houses in Tehama were elevated two feet above the existing 1:100 flood level. The standard approach would have been to elevate the homes one foot above the 1:100 flood level but an extra foot was added to anticipate future climate change impacts. The city of Tehama recommends residents elevate their homes if the floor level of their property is lower than the potential water level of a flood event. As of now almost 100 people in the community have raised their houses.

Tehama is a relatively poor community falling at about 80% of California’s median income, and according to the 2000 census about half of the residents fell below the poverty level.2 The entire city is within California’s designated Disadvantaged Communities boundaries. The costs of elevating individual homes in Tehama ranged from $35,000 to $100,000. For the residents of this small agricultural community with limited tax revenues to pay these costs would have been particularly burdensome.

 

The city was able to patch together non-municipal funding sources to substantially reduce residents’ costs, allowing the elevation of homes to be more accessible for the community. Almost two-thirds of the cost (65%) was covered by the USACE through Section 205 of the Flood Control Act of 1948.3 The City asked California’s Reclamation Board (now called the Central Valley Flood Protection Board) for assistance and the Board agreed to provide 25% of the costs. Tehama was able to use funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program (see Section IV) to cover the remaining 10% share for low income residents. The other homeowners who did not qualify for CDBG funding had to pay 10% of the costs themselves. About 75 of these homeowners decided not to elevate their homes. The costs may have been too high for those homeowners to participate in the program.

 

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