US Army Corps of Engineers
Portland District Website

The Christmas Flood of 1964: Learn from the past. Prepare for the future.

Reducing floods today

Link to video about how dams manage waterThe flood was bad around the state, but it could have been much worse, at least in the Willamette Valley. Seven Corps flood control dams were in operation at the time and significantly reduced damage there. See how the Corps’ system of Willamette Valley dams works in this video.


How do these dams perform their water management mission? Watch this short video to find out.


Managing water is not the only goal during a flood. Emergency preparedness and response is everyone’s responsibility, and government agencies can provide assistance before, during and after natural disasters or other emergencies. Learn more about the Corps’ Emergency Management program or visit the “Partner agencies” page to learn about their programs.

Ready then, ready now

Hydrograph showing Salem during the 1964 flood event

The Corps' seven Willamette Valley flood-control reservoirs in operation at the time significantly reduced flood damage to downstream communities.

This graph shows three hydrographs at several USGS gages.

The blue line represents the actual flow observed in the 1964 Christmas Flood.

The red line is the estimated flow that would have occurred if no dams were in place.

The green line is the estimated flow if all 11 of today’s Willamette Valley flood-control reservoirs were in place.

How much of a difference is that?Picture of the Salem Hospital in Oregon from the 1964 Flood

This picture shows Salem Memorial Hospital during the flood.

The red line on the buildings shows how much higher the water would have been if no dams had been in place at the time of the flood - nearly 7 feet, or most of another story of the building.

Since 1964, the Corps added four more flood-control dams to our Willamette Valley Project, plus two in the Rogue River Basin, where none existed in 1964.

We’ve also added Willow Creek Dam near Heppner, Ore.

Learn more about our new approaches to flood risk management here.