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June 15, 2010 > History: Floods in Alvarado

History: Floods in Alvarado

By Tim Swenson

The map of Alvarado from the Thompson and West Atlas from 1878 clearly shows that Alameda Creek formed the north edge of Alvarado. Most of the year, flow of Alameda Creek was low enough to not cause a problem. Rains of winter and spring would bring a large increase in the water of Alameda Creek which would overflow its banks every year. How much land the flood covered depended on how much rain fell. Before the pioneers came, floods brought new soil to the alluvial plains of Washington Township creating rich farmland that the pioneers discovered.

When Alvarado became the County Seat of Alameda County in 1853, almost immediately the call to move the county seat was sounded. Minor floods would hamper travel to Alvarado. If Alvarado was dry, roads to Alvarado might be flooded somewhere between it and the nearest towns. Alvarado had raised boardwalks to allow residents to walk around downtown when it was flooded.

In 1862, the flood was the worst that they had seen, with all of Alvarado under six feet of water. In 1876, Alameda Creek overflowed its banks six times, flooding areas between Alvarado, Centerville, and Niles. A newspaper report details a number of boys and girls taking a boat to ride over the fields. The boat eventually tipped over throwing out the occupants. One boy climbed up a fence. A number of girls just hiked up their skirts and started wading home; "The boys couldn't tell whether they wore barber pole stockings or not, as the water was muddy and came above the point where the stockings were supposed to terminate."

Levees were built to hold back the floods but they would not be perfect. In 1889, it is reported that a levee broke near the Riverside Hotel and "The entire district between Hall's Station and Mt. Eden is flooded." In 1890, a larger flood caused worry that the Bell Ranch Bridge (where Decoto Rd. crosses Alameda Creek) might be taken out by the water and driftwood floats. That same year, Alvarado Elementary was closed for two weeks because of floods. In 1897, another flood washed away three homes near Alameda Creek. Of course, each time the flood was especially high, the newspapers would report the flood as being the worst ever seen or the highest ever, etc.

In 1860, Alameda Creek was navigational almost to the Bell Ranch Bridge (now Decoto Road).Over time it silted up and became more shallow. A photograph from 1898, taken from the Smith Street Bridge east of Alvarado, shows how narrow Alameda Creek was and the many bushes growing on its banks. Laborers were paid to clear the creek of bushes and bramble, allowing the creek to flow faster.

Starting in 1938, ways to control the flooding were examined. The biggest issue was who would pay the cost of these measures. When residents complained to the County about culvert pipes not being big enough along Highway 17 (Hesperian and Union City Blvd), the County said it had no jurisdiction over the issue, as the road was a state highway.

Small measures were made; different sections of Alameda Creek widened. From 1965 to 1975, work was done on a flood control channel for Alameda Creek. Since work started on the flood control channel, there has not been a flood along Alameda Creek.

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