This section of the City’s website provides information about Salem’s floodplain, rivers, streams, creeks, and drainageways. City personnel are available to provide specific flood and related data and to make site visits to review flood, drainage, and sewer problems. Please call the Public Works Department Development Services Section at 503-588-6211 for more information regarding floodplain management.
Floodplain Management Plan
As a key element of the City’s Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, the Floodplain Management Plan identifies flood hazards throughout the community, evaluates the problems caused by those hazards, reviews possible mitigation activities, and creates an action plan to mitigate those flood hazards. The plan is also integral to the City’s participation in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Community Rating System, which reduces annual flood premiums Citywide.
Salem features the Willamette River, smaller tributaries, and streams that are susceptible to annual flooding events that pose threats to life and safety and cause significant property damage. The streams include Battle Creek, Cinnamon Creek, Claggett Creek, Clark Creek, Croisan Creek, Davidson Creek, Gibson Creek, Glenn Creek, Golf Creek, Jory Creek, Laurel Creek, Little Pudding, Mill Creek, Mill Race, Pettijohn Creek, Powell Creek, Pringle Creek, Scotch Creek, Shelton Ditch, Waln Creek, and Winslow Creek.
Salem has more than 4,000 acres of flooplain and approximately 3,000 individual parcels that are partially or entirely located within the floodplain. In Salem, flooding generally occurs when: (1) unusually warm weather and heavy rains melt snow at higher elevations, which flood local streams, or (2) ongoing development within the city continues to displace natural areas that have historically functioned as flood storage.
Historic Flood Events
The largest flood of the Willamette River on record occurred in 1861; the next significant flood occurred in 1890. In more recent times, many residents may remember the Christmas flood of 1964, which was rated "approximately a 100-year flood" by FEMA and may be the most damaging in Oregon’s history. The Christmas flood of 1964 caused $157 million in damage, and 20 Oregonians lost their lives.
The Christmas flood occurred as a result of two storms, one on December 19, 1964, and the other on January 31, 1965. These storms brought record-breaking rainfall, and the resultant flooding was exacerbated by near-record early season snow depths. The Willamette River crested nearly ten feet above flood stage, and many other streams in Salem overflowed their banks. The floodwaters rendered the sewage treatment plant inoperable, causing raw sewage to be channeled directly into the Willamette River. One hundred and twenty-one patients were evacuated from Salem Memorial Hospital, and 15 families in the Turner and Salem areas were evacuated from their homes.
Recent Flood Events
Since 1964, major storm events occurred in January 1974, February 1986, February 1996, November 1996, and January 2012. In February 1996, the Salem area saw nearly 100-year flood levels, causing flooding in both rural and urban areas. Damages to city businesses, residences, and infrastructure were tremendous, and most of the city’s residents were affected by the substantial impact on the transportation system, the loss of potable water, and the damage to personal property. Claims filed under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program from Salem residences and businesses accounted for almost one-third of the claims filed for Marion County in 1996.
During the most recent event in January 2012, some areas of south Salem received over 9 inches of rain within a 5-day period. Heavy rainfall combined with melting snow caused substantial flooding in the Battle Creek, Mill Creek, Pringle Creek, and Croisan Creek basins. Approximately 300 people were evacuated from their homes, and 64 city streets were closed due to high water.
While the 1996 event was devastating to the entire region, the floods of 1861, 1890, and 1964 exceeded the 1996 events in terms of velocity and volume of water. These four major historical floods and the recent 2012 flood have been estimated to be nearly 100-year events, or Base Floods, and all within a time frame of about 150 years.