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Flooding & the Salem Floodplain

Learn about local flood hazards, flood insurance, requirements for developing or building in the floodplain, and how you can prepare your family for a flood.

 Flood Hazards

Local Flood Hazards

This section of our website provides information about Salem’s floodplain, rivers, streams, creeks, and drainageways. City of Salem personnel are available to provide specific flood and related data, and to make site visits to review flood, drainage, and sewer problems. Please call Public Works Development Services at 503-588-6211 for more information regarding floodplain management.

Floodplain Management Plan

As a key element of the City of Salem 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 insurance premiums citywide.

Salem’s Floodplain

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
  • 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 twenty-one patients were evacuated from Salem Memorial Hospital, and 15 families in the Turner and Salem areas were evacuated from their homes.

Salem’s Historical Flood Gallery

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.

Beneficial Functions of Floodplains

Recognizing the natural and beneficial functions of floodplains can help to reduce flooding. Floodplains are a natural component of the city of Salem environment. Understanding and protecting the natural functions of floodplains reduces flood damage and protects resources.

When flooding spreads out across the floodplain, its energy is dissipated, resulting in lower flood flows downstream, reduced erosion of the stream bank and channel, deposition of sediments higher in the watershed, and improved groundwater recharge. Floodplains are scenic, serve as valued wildlife habitats, and are suitable for farming. Poorly planned development in floodplains can lead to stream bank erosion, loss of valuable property, increased risk of flooding to downstream properties, and degradation of water quality.

Contact Information

The City of Salem provides free information regarding flood hazards for specific sites within our community. Public Works Development Services staff is available at City Hall, 555 Liberty Street SE, Room 325, Salem, Oregon, or by phone at 503-588-6211. We are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. We strive to return all calls within one business day.

 Flood Insurance

Flood Insurance

Homeowner insurance policies do not cover damage from floods. However, because the City of Salem participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, federally-backed flood insurance is available for all structures, whether or not they are located within the floodplain. This insurance can be purchased through most insurance agents.

More than 25 percent of National Flood Insurance Program claims are filed by owners of properties located outside the 100-year floodplain. Following the purchase of flood insurance, the National Flood Insurance Program imposes a 30-day waiting period, so residents should purchase insurance before the onset of the rainy season to ensure coverage during the flooding season.

When Flood Insurance is Required

Federal financial assistance requires the purchase of flood insurance for buildings located within the 100-year floodplain or Special Flood Hazard Area—a requirement that affects nearly all mortgages financed through commercial lending institutions. This requirement stipulates that structural coverage must be purchased that is equal to the amount of the loan or other financial assistance, or for the maximum amount available, which is currently $250,000 for a single-family residence.

While the mandatory flood insurance requirement has been in effect for many years, not all lending institutions enforced this requirement in the past. Today, however, most institutions require that flood insurance be purchased, and some are reviewing all mortgage loans to determine whether flood insurance is required. Upon refinancing a loan, nearly all lending institutions will enforce the mandatory flood insurance requirement. It is the lender’s responsibility to check the Flood Insurance Rate Map to determine whether a structure is within the Special Flood Hazard Area.

Community Rating System

The National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum National Flood Insurance Program requirements. The CRS program recognizes a community’s efforts to reduce flood risk, facilitates accurate insurance ratings, and promotes the awareness of flood insurance.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the City of Salem a Class 6 rating, allowing Salem residents to receive a 20-percent discount on flood insurance premiums. Participation in the CRS program acknowledges Salem’s efforts that help save lives and reduce property damage in the event of a flood.

The City of Salem continues to make improvement in our CRS program and strives to improve our rating within any given year. Watch this page for updates about the City’s CRS status.

For more information about the CRS program, visit FloodSmart.

Important Insurance Facts

  • Mandatory coverage is required only for insurable structures located within the Special Flood Hazard Area; voluntary coverage is available at a reduced rate for structures located outside the Special Flood Hazard Area.

  • Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, there is a 1 in 4 chance that flooding will damage a property in Salem’s 100-year floodplain.

  • A lender can require flood insurance, even if it is not federally required.

  • Just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. From 2010 to 2014, the average residential flood claim amounted to more than $39,000. In 2014, the average flood insurance policy premium was about $700 per year. Flood insurance is the best way to protect yourself from devastating financial loss.

Contact Information

The City of Salem Public Works Development Services staff is available to answer flood insurance questions. Please visit us at City Hall, 555 Liberty Street SE, Room 325, Salem, Oregon, or call 503-588-6211.

Visit the FEMA website for additional information regarding the National Flood Insurance Program. More information about flood insurance can be found in the FEMA media library or by contacting the National Flood Insurance Program directly at 800-427-4661. They can also provide assistance to find local insurance agents that offer flood insurance.

 Safety Tips

Flood Safety Tips

City of Salem Public Works Emergency Preparedness has flood warning information available that can be accessed by calling 503-588-6211, or during an emergency through our website. Road closures, sandbag locations, evacuation routes, and shelter locations can all be found on this website. Additionally, Marion County Roads Department has a hotline that features road conditions, road closures, and road hazards. Call 503-588-5304 or check their website.

Before a Flood

Be prepared before floodwaters hit. These are ways to prepare yourself and your family.

  • Prepare an evacuation plan. Develop an evacuation plan among all members of a household that includes a meeting place outside of the house, as well as an escape route out of the floodplain and away from floodwaters.

  • Safeguard your possessions. Create a personal flood file containing information about all of your possessions and keep it in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container. This file should contain a copy of your insurance policies, a household inventory, and copies of all other critical documents.

  • Prepare your home. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce the impact of floodwater on your home and belongs. For more information, visit visit

  • Build an emergency supply kit. Food, bottled water, first aid supplies, medicines, and battery-operated radio should be ready to go when you are. Visit for a complete disaster supply check list.

During a Flood

Keep safe during a flood by following these tips.

  • Listen to your radio or TV for emergency information. Evacuate immediately if told to do so.

  • Do not walk through flowing water. Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths, mostly during flash floods. Currents can be deceptive; six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. If you walk in standing water, use a pole or stick to ensure that the ground is still there.

  • Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Do not drive around road barriers; the road or bridge may be washed out.

  • Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. The number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to Portland General Electric or the County Emergency Management Office.

  • Shut off gas and electricity, and move valuable contents upstairs. Be prepared in advance with a detailed checklist because warning of an impending flood may provide little time for preparation prior to evacuation.

  • Look out for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn things over and scare away small animals.

  • Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.

  • Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Do not smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames unless you know that the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.

After a Flood

What do you do after your home has been flooded? Below are some tips from

  • Check for Damage. Check for structural damage before re-entering your home. If you suspect damage to water, gas, electric, or sewer lines, contact authorities.

  • Remove wet items. Immediately remove wet carpeting, furniture, and bedding. Any item holding moisture can develop mold within 24 to 48 hours. Clean and disinfect everything touched by floodwaters. Get cleanup tips and more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Plan before you repair.The rebuilding decisions you make now to lower your risk and insurance costs can result in big benefits over the long term. Contact the City of Salem Building and Safety office at 503-588-6256 to get more information.

  • File your flood claim. To file your claim, you will need your insurance company’s name, your policy number, and a number where you can be reached. Take photos of any water in the house and anything damaged in your home. Make a detailed list of all damaged or lost items.

For a complete book on Repairing Your Flooded Home, contact FEMA Publications, P.O. Box 70274, Washington, DC 20024, or view the electronic version online. The Red Cross Flood Safety Checklist is another helpful resource.

High Water Watch

The City of Salem Public Works Department also monitors stream levels and rainfall in near real-time from a number of sites across the city and throughout the Mill Creek Watershed. These data are available on the Mid Willamette Valley High Water Watch website. In addition to stream levels and rainfall data, the website provides links to regional National Weather Service alerts and forecasts, Doppler weather radar imaging, and additional links on flood preparation. The data and information provided on this website can be used to help inform home owners on the need for taking action to protect themselves and their property prior to an impending flood event.

 Property Protection Measures

Property Protection Measures

Whether or not their homes have experienced damage from flooding in the past, property owners can take practical and cost-effective measures to reduce or eliminate the risk of flooding. Such techniques include elevating the home, relocating the home to higher ground, constructing flood-walls or berms, installing flood vents to equalize the force of flood waters, flood-proofing, and protecting utilities. For further information, contact City of Salem Public Works Development Services at 503-588-6211, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Region X at 425-487-4600. You may also visit FEMA’s website at, which has publications about property protections, including Engineering Principles and Practices for Retrofitting Flood-Prone Residential Structures, FEMA-259, dated January 2012.

During times of flooding, homes that have not been retrofitted can be protected during emergencies by the installation of sandbags. For further information about sandbags and the locations of sandbag sites available during flooding, contact the City of Salem Dispatch Communication Center at 503-588-6333. During a storm event, information can be found on our website. In case of an emergency, call 9-1-1.

Flood Mitigation Assistance Program

FEMA is authorized to provide grants to states and communities for planning assistance and for mitigation projects that reduce the risk of flood damage to structures covered by flood insurance. Most FEMA grants provide 75 percent of the cost of a project. The owner is expected to fund the other 25 percent, although in some cases the state or local government may contribute to the non-FEMA share.

Each program has a different Congressional authorization and slightly different rules. States and communities set their own priorities for the use of the grant funds but are strongly encouraged to address their repetitive flood problems. In no case can a FEMA grant be used on a project without the completely voluntary agreement of the owner.

Since July 1, 1997, all National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance policies include Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage. If you have National Flood Insurance Program insurance, and your structure has been declared substantially damaged from a flood, ICC coverage will cover up to $30,000 for the cost to elevate, flood-proof, demolish, or relocate your structure. ICC coverage is in addition to the coverage you receive to repair flood damages; however, the total payout on a policy may not exceed $250,000 for residential buildings and $500,000 for non-residential buildings.

“Substantial damage” means damage sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its condition immediately prior to the damage would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred. Similarly, “substantial improvement” includes any reconstruction, rehabilitation, or addition to an existing structure, the cost of which exceeds 50 percent of the structure’s appraised or market value (whichever the builder chooses to use).

Availability of City Staff

Certified floodplain managers, building inspectors, and stormwater maintenance personnel on City staff are available, upon request, to make site visits to review flood, drainage, and stormwater issues. For further information and prior to undertaking any activity within the floodplain, please contact City of Salem Public Works Development Services at 503-588-6211. To report local flooding, contact Public Works Dispatch at 503-588-6333.

 Floodplain Development

Floodplain Development

To minimize damage to structures during flood events, the City requires all new construction in the floodplain to be anchored against movement by floodwaters, to be resistant to flood forces, and to be constructed with flood resistant materials. In addition, new structures and additions to existing structures must be flood-proofed or elevated so that the first floor of living space, as well as all electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and other service facilities are at least one foot above the elevation of the 100-year flood.

Additionally, most other types of development within the floodplain also require a floodplain development permit, such as grading, cut, fill, installation of riprap, and other bank stabilization techniques.

Public Works Development Services staff is available at City Hall, 555 Liberty Street SE, Room 325, or by phone at 503-588-6211, to answer questions about permit requirements for construction activities in the floodplain. To report work being performed in the floodplain unlawfully, two contact numbers are available:

  • For building concerns and structures being erected in the floodplain without building permits, contact Community Development Building and Safety staff at 503-588-6256.

  • For excavation, fill, or other construction activity in the floodplain, contact Public Works Development Services staff at 503-588-6211 during business hours or Public Works Dispatch at 503-588-6333 outside normal business hours.

Helpful Links

 Floodplain Information

Floodplain Information

City of Salem Floodplain Information Services

The City can determine the relationship of a particular property to the floodplain, including:

  • Whether the property is located within the FEMA mapped Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)
  • Flood Insurance Rate Map information for the property
  • Base Flood Elevation for property, if available
  • Whether the property is located within the floodway

Contact City of Salem Public Works Development Services at 503-588-6211.

Flood Maps & Studies

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) produces Flood Insurance Studies and Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM). These resources describe flood hazards based on the best available science and information available. They serve as the bases for determining when floodplain development and insurance requirements apply to structures. The City of Salem maintains copies of all FIRM panels and the Flood Insurance Study for the City of Salem. Contact City of Salem Public Works Development Services at 503-588-6211 to obtain copies or for further information.

You can create a smaller map printout of a Flood Insurance Rate Map, called a FIRMette, using your computer. To create your own FIRMette, or to see if a property is located in a floodplain, visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center.

Elevation Certificates

Elevation certificates are important administrative tools of the National Flood Insurance Program. These are used to determine the proper flood insurance premium rate and to document elevation information necessary to ensure compliance with community floodplain management regulations. Elevation certificates may also be used to support a request for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or Letter of Map Revision based on fill (LOMR-F).

Learn more about elevation certificates.

 Additional Resources

City of Salem, Community Development, Planning Division503-588-6256planning@cityofsalem.netCommunity Development
City of Salem, Public Works Department, Development Services Section503-588-6211Development Services
City of Salem, Public Works Department, Emergency Preparedness503-588-6211Public Works
For emergencies, call 911.
Division of State Lands (DSL)503-378-3805Division of State Lands Website
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)425-487-4600 (Region X)FEMA Region X Website
Marion County Library System503-588-7740 or 503-588-6052Library
The library system houses floodplain publications and other floodplain information.
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)206-526-6150National Marine Fisheries Service Website
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW)503-872-5268Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Website
Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF)503-945-7200Oregon Department of Forestry Website
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers503-808-4510U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Website
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