In the summer of 1967, one of the worst disasters in the history of Alaska struck the Fairbanks area. Unusually heavy rains swelled the Chena and Little Chena rivers six feet above their flood stage. Water poured into downtown Fairbanks and the outlying regions, driving residents to their rooftops and eventually displacing nearly 7,000 people from their homes. Roads, bridges, and railroads washed away, isolating Fairbanks and hindering rescue efforts. Damage estimates totaled more than $80 million. The extensive destruction helped inspire Congress to pass a national flood insurance program. To prevent a disaster of this magnitude from occurring again, the Alaska District proposed the "Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project." Its primary purpose was to protect Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright from high waters.
The Flood Control Act of 1958 provided authority for this project. When the flood of 1967 sparked a new sense of urgency, Congress reauthorized it by passing the Flood Control Act of 1968, in accordance with recommendations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general. Major components of the project included the Moose Creak Dam and Floodway, the Tanana River Levee, and drainage channels within the protected area. Together, they comprised the largest federal civil works program in the state. The Alaska District joined the Fairbanks North Star Borough in developing the project. While the Corps acquired the lands needed for the dam and floodway, the borough obtained the lands for the levee and drainage channels.
Construction began in 1973, and the Corps completed the $256 million Chena Project in 1979. A key component of the dam and levee system, located about 20 miles east of Fairbanks, was the massive concrete outlet works and flood gates. During normal fluctuations of the Chena River, the outlet works remained open, allowing the natural flow of water. Fish, as well as boats, continued to travel through the open gates. At periods of high water, however, the Corps lowered the flood gates, directing excess water to the Tanana River. In 1987, the Fairbanks North Star Borough assumed responsibility for operation and maintenance of the levee and drainage channels.