The Little-Known Extra Dangers of Sausalito Tide-Caused Flooding (King Tides)
Insiders Tip: Salt water puddles like the ones we get when Sausalito tides run high can total your car. Salt water is highly corrosive, and does extra damage to electronics. One neighbor drove her BMW through a deep puddle the way you would during a rainstorm. The puddle was salt water at high tide, and within days her car started to die intermittently as if its battery were failing.
Two months later the insurance company declared the car a total loss as the mechanics discovered the salt water that had worked its way up into the underside of the car had corroded so many electronic connections that a repair was untenable. She did not have replacement value auto insurance (which we believe is vital) and the car was not paid off. She told me she lost almost $20,000 by driving through that puddle.
How can you tell if a puddle is salt water? Assume that it’s salt water and dangerous to your car if it’s:
- Near the Bay or to any stream, canal, drainage ditch, marsh, slough or flooded area that’s near or next to the Bay. Example: The frontage roads near Goodman’s, Safeway and In ‘N’ Out in Mill Valley seem like they’re not near water in many places, but are actually adjacent to a large saltwater marsh for much of their length. When they flood it’s salt water.
- Adjacent to a manhole in the street, since in extreme Sausalito tides like King Tides — and during big storms — salt water can enter the rainwater drainage system via the pipes that normally drain into the bay and start coming up to and out of manholes in low-lying areas. This happens on Gate Five Road, where some local buildings and homes also have pumps draining to the street during high Sausalito tides that exacerbate the problem.
- Adjacent to a storm drain, for the same reasons.
- My personal rule: unless it’s well uphill from the Bay (as in 30 feet above the water or more), I assume a puddle in Sausalito or Mill Valley is salt water.
The Unknown Loopholes in Flood Insurance & Homeowners Policies
Insiders Tip: Remember to check that you have flood insurance. It is NOT included in most homeowner policies, and many basic auto insurance policies may also exclude it (though in “comprehensive” policies it may be included). Ask your agent how much it would cost to add flood insurance for your home and car(s). As I explain below, even homes high on a hill can need it.
While you’re at it, check to see if you have “full replacement value” on your home insurance. One of our contributing editors had a small fire at his home, which necessitated major repairs for smoke damage. Many items in the house also had to be replaced because of smoke damage, and his agent estimated that without “full replacement value” insurance the depreciation formula they’d have used would in his case have netted 20% of the value of the items. As it is, they had full replacement value and got 100%.
The city inspectors required that as part of the smoke damage repairs the 60-year-old house had to be brought up to code, which meant complying with a long list of additional requirements. Full replacement value covered these required upgrades, while regular homeowners insurance would only have covered the status quo prior to the fire. Having the coverage for this issue alone saved them about $100,000, which otherwise would have set them back years with a second mortgage.
Full replacement value does not cost that much more than regular homeowners insurance, but if you ever have a claim it can create life-changing differences in the payments you receive.
One more note re flood insurance and living on a hill. In the December, 2016 flooding one of our friends who lived in a “safe” spot on a hill had major damage when an uphill storm drain clogged and water overflowed in a new direction, which happened to be right through his home office. The same thing happened to my parents in the infamous Storms of 1982, when a clogged storm drain sent water down a hillside and started to split their garage in half by undercutting the concrete foundation.
If you live or work in the Marinship area of northern Sausalito, especially on or near Gate 5 Road (pictured above looking towards Harbor Dr.), Gate 6 Road, Gate 6 1/2 Road, Harbor Drive or Liberty Ship Way, you need to keep an eye on the Sausalito tide table for extreme high tides (“King Tides”) in Sausalito flood zones.
No, this is not the trailer for the Weather Channel’s latest “what would happen to your house if it were relocated to Jupiter?” documentary. The rising waters at the Manzanita Park and Drive can flood parked cars up to their windows. If it’s raining Gate 5 Road, Marinship Way and Liberty Ship Way have water flood into the streets from storm drains. High winds can also radically increase flooding by creating waves that flow over higher ground. Salt water is far more damaging to cars than fresh water, even with brief one-time exposure.
For Sausalito tide tables please scroll down to the bottom of this page.
Sausalito Tide Based Flood Zone Maps
The FEMA flood zones maps went through their most recent major revision in 2016 (and as of 2021 are still current) to reflect recent experiences with higher levels of flooding across the United States. The sample image of Sausalito below shows Sausalito’s flood zones. You can click on the image to see the original map, which is interactive and where you can zoom in to much higher resolution. We advise that you don’t rely on the smaller image here but click through to the FEMA website since it’s so much more detailed when you zoom in. This map factors for near-term potential rising sea levels and does not necessarily match official local flood insurance maps.
Insiders Tip: When you go to the FEMA website they put a notice up over the map, and to get that pop-up to disappear you have to scroll down and check a box at the bottom. Then enter “Sausalito” in the search window to zoom in, as shown below.
Storm Preparation Advice from Sausalito Police
Here’s their advice from the 2017 storms and King Tides, with a few comments from my experiences as a Marin native:
Check the drains or gutters at your home. If they’re clogged you can get a lot of water damage very quickly. There are commercial services that clean them for a fee if you don’t want to do it yourself. I don’t like being on the roof of our house or up high on a ladder, so we use a service.
Check the storm drains uphill from your home. A clogged storm drain on the street above my parents’ house in the 1982 storms overflowed and almost broke their carport in half by undercutting the foundation. The resulting crack made the carport almost 3 inches wider in 1983 than it was in 1981! The repair to restabilize the carport cost over $14,000.
If a SMALL storm drain on your street starts overflowing and you don’t see Public Works crews in your area, IF AND ONLY IF YOU CAN DO SO SAFELY put on highly reflective rain gear and see if you can remove the leaves to restore water flow, which could prevent flooding at your home and your neighbors’.
Do this ONLY for small residential storm drains, NEVER for big ones with pipes wider than 12 inches or with catch basins bigger than your foot. Never wade into runoff streams or flooded streets, even if they were dry before the storm, because they may hide sinkholes, open manholes etc. Larger storm drains that look clogged may have enough water still flowing to suck you in and below the surface where you can drown — tragically, this happened to a local boy when I was a kid. Just stay away from any large drains or culverts during floods.
Always call 9-1-1 if you see a fallen tree or live wires. Never attempt to move any wires from the street or from your property by yourself, because they can kill you. Don’t assume that they’re just TV or data wires, because many electrical cables look just like cable TV or Internet cables.
Read the Insiders Tip above about not driving through salt water. Doing so just once can severely damage your car.
Move anything that isn’t waterproof away from areas any where you’ve seen water get in during past storms, including the garage or carport.
Make sure you and your extended family have enough food, water and batteries for the next few days if a big storm is coming. If you have elderly or disabled neighbors please check on them as well to make sure they’re prepared.
Recharge your laptop, phone, tablet and your backup charger in case the power goes out and PG&E can’t get to the problem for a while.
Call PG&E at 800-743-5002 to report any power outages, and they have information on estimated repair times. You can also check out the PG&E website.
Be careful out there, my friends!