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Homeless People Damaging Flood Levees, Putting Thousands Of Sacramento Homes In Danger

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – There's a growing threat to the levees that protect areas of Sacramento from flooding, and the city is not doing much to stop it.

"This is public infrastructure and needs to be preserved," said Tim Kerr, general manager for the American River Flood Control while inspecting the levee damage.

Sometimes erosion can be caused by fallen trees or rodents, but now, levee monitors are finding that damage is being intentionally caused by homeless people carving out campsites on the American River

"About 14 inches. That's not good," Kerr said as he measured a deep trench along the levee. "And about 16 to 17 feet long."

Kerr said some homeless people dug out the levee to flatten the ground for their tents.

Swipe through photos of the homeless camps along the levee. 

(credit: RD1000)
(credit: RD1000)
(credit: RD1000)

"It took somebody a lot of time to do this excavation," Kerr said."Something like this needs to be repaired immediately."

Finding The Damage

Kerr said his engineers find about two new trenches a month. The danger comes during flood season when fast-moving water nears the top of a 22-foot tall levee.

"It can get into an exposed cut...and there's no sod covering to armor the surface of the soil," said Kerr.

Homeowners are concerned.

Scott Garrison lives near the levee. "If the levees go, my house would probably be underwater," he said.

Garrison is one of 100,000 people who is protected from flooding by levees.

He saw a homeless person carving out part of the levee and reached out to CBS13.

"I noticed this gentleman out there carving into the side of the levee to pitch his tent," he said.

To make matters worse, holes are hard to spot, Kerr says.

"We aren't able to do our visual inspections because there's so much debris," said Kevin King, general manager for Reclamation District 1000. "There may be things going on underneath the tarps and tents that are covered up that we just can't monitor."


For example, there's a large encampment along Steelhead Creek near Northgate Boulevard. Inspectors found a trench four-feet deep carved into the slope of the levee.

Moving The Homeless

Levee districts have no authority to move homeless, so it's up to the police to clear out the camps, which isn't happening. We asked the Sacramento Police Department why officers aren't moving people out of that area so the levees can be repaired.

"Well we can't tell them where to move," said Officer Marcus Basquez.

A recent federal court ruling made enforcing the city's anti-camping ordinance difficult because there's not enough shelter space to house homeless.

"It's a problem throughout the entire state and we are doing our best to offer services to them," said Basquez.

Map of American River Flood Control.

"Wow, doesn't the city care to do something about it?" Garrison said.

That's the question we've been trying to ask city leaders, but neither the mayor nor the council members who represent Natomas, which the levee protects, were available for comment.

For now, levee districts are trying to quickly patch up these holes before a flooding incident can occur.

"There's a lot at stake here in Sacramento," Kerr said.

On Friday, reclamation district leaders meet to discuss requesting immediate assistance from police to clear the camps. They also want to look at new strategies to address unauthorized homeless encampments.

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