Intelligent flood "control" finally!
Keith Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thu, 07 May 1998 01:11:57 -0700
> NAPA TURNS TO 'LIVING RIVER' FOR FLOOD PROTECTION
> by Timothy Egan
> New York Times
> NAPA - A good 64 inches of rain has pelted this valley of fine wine and
> pursuers of the sublime since last July. So last month, in the middle of yet
> another El Nino-driven storm, Napa Valley residents went to the polls and
> decided to do something about it.
> By a two-thirds majority, Napa County voted to raise taxes to pay for
> ripping out it's flood control system, allowing the near-dead Napa River to
> return to life and run wild for much of it's 55 miles. After suffering 27
> floods in less than 150 years, with flood controls, the Napa Valley now will
> take a chance with unfettered nature.
> In a state where virtually every major river is shackled by a dam, pinched
> by levees or siphoned for use by distant cities, the vote in Napa amounts to
> a call for revolution in the nation's war against high water.
> Under the plan, some of the old dikes and levees built to keep the river in
> a straight channel -- largely without success -- would be lowered or
> removed. Bridges that block the flow of high water would be raised or torn
> down. People living in areas that regularly flood would be bought out and
> asked to move.
> About 600 acres of low-lying land would be given back to the river, as
> wetlands. The river's water will go where it usually goes in floods, but in
> the future nobody will live there.
> By voting to let the river run free, reclaiming much of it's own meandering
> path, Napa residents have also steered the Army Corps of Engineers -- an
> agency that usually acts like the orthodontists of nature -- on a new path.
> "What we will be doing in Napa is radically different from anything we have
> ever done before," said Jason Fanselau, a spokesman for the Corps in
> Sacramento. "It's going to totally change the way we do business."
> MORE CONTROLS REJECTED
> In Napa, the change is coming from voters; three times in the last 22 years,
> the county has voted down Corps proposals for expanding it's traditional
> concrete-walled flood control system. But the engineers are also undergoing
> a rethinking of their own. Ever since the epic Mississippi River floods in
> 1993, the Corps has taken a long second-look at it's century-old efforts to
> hold back flooding rivers with dams, levees, diversions and drainage
> ditches. A levee system unrivaled by anything but the Great Wall of China
> has not only failed to keep the Mississippi between it's banks, but has made
> floods downriver more severe by blocking natural outlets for the building
> Rather than rebuilding old, flooded structures, federal authorities have
> been buying up property in the Mississippi flood plain. But the new
> philosophy has yet to penetrate all of Congress -- where the California
> delegation has been trying to get money for at least one new billion-dollar
> dam -- nor has it been tested at the ballot box by property owners.
> That leaves the Napa plan as the most systematic effort in the country to
> try what is know as the 'living waters" approach. The existing network of
> braces, dikes and levees, while protecting some people from flooding, sent
> so much water downstream so quickly that it always managed to spill over
> onto property further down the river. The plan now is to combine ecology and
> engineering. Some dikes and reservoirs will be strengthened to slow the
> river in key palces. But dredging and straightening the riverbed will be
> largely abandoned, and in other sections, the river will be allowed to widen
> during floods, filling the old mashlands south of the town of Napa.
> These restored wetlands will work as a sponge, the thnking goes.
> The cost, over 20 years, will be $220 million, half paid by the federal
> government, and half coming from a half-cent rise in the county sales tax
> and from the state.
> DECADES OF DAMAGE
> To many who live in Napa, the price is a bargain. Floods from the last 40
> years have cost more than $500 million in property damage.
> "For over a century, we have fought a losing battle against the Napa River,"
> city officials wrote in a voters guide published before last month's
> election. "We have failed because we didn't respect the river's natural
> California requires a two-thirds majority to raise the local sales tax. The
> vote in Napa just made that threshold, getting 68 percent, or 308 votes more
> than needed, out of more than 27,000 cast. Opponents of the measure, who did
> not mount an organized campaign, worried that the plan would not offer
> enough certainty for future years.
> The plan seems radical because it calls on the people to trust that a
> raging, chocolate-colored river, if allowed to reclaim it's old floodplain,
> will ultimately provide more protections than the existing network of
> levees, decades of dredging or a plan now backed by the Corps to line the
> river with concrete.
> "It will require us to go wider instead of deeper," said Paul Bowers, the
> Corps of Engineers official who will co-manage the project with county
> authorities. "That was the biggest issue: will people be able to give up
> that much land to restore a river?"
> CLEARING THE WAY
> Napa County officials say they will buy out several businesses, a trailer
> park, some warehouses and about 16 houses. They will raise bridges that have
> served as blockage points to high-charging rivers. Most of the farmland,
> from high quality vineyards on down, will stay just that, subject to floods
> in the dormant season in winter, but dry in California's typical eight
> months of draught. But some farmland will be bought. Joe Ghisletta III,
> whose family has owned farmland in Napa Valley for nearly a century, will
> revert to a marsh.
> "I think overall the whole plan is going to be a blessing for this valley,"
> Ghisletta said.
> Tourism is big business in the valley, which gets about 5 million visitors a
> year. The constant television images in recent years of couches floating
> down the Napa River, or people taking rowboats to flooded homes, is not
> considered the best advertising.
> "Image is everything in this valley," said Moira Johnston Block, president
> of Friends of the Napa River, a citizens group that was instrumental in
> bringing the living river plan to the table. "The floods have been the most
> ongoing, negative image. Some of the winemakers saw this plan as image
> During the camapaign, most of the vineyards promoted the plan. But despite
> the weekend traffic jams of limousines touring the wine country, Napa is
> much more than the gilded valley that tourists perceive, Johnston Block
> said. The touwn of Napa, where 70 percent of the voters live, is largely
> blue collar, and the county is full of fifth-generation farmers who live by
> the whims of weather.
> DIFFERENT SOLUTION NEEDED
> David Prewitt, who lives in a trailer park that is to be moved, said he had
> to abandon the park during high water in January and February. A 20-year
> resident of the town of Napa, he said he generally favors the plan.
> "They had to do something," Prewitt said, sitting in the bright sunshine of
> a day when Napa's hills were brilliant green from the rains. "They've
> dredged this river time and again, and put up flood walls, and still it
> always seems to go over it's banks."
> Nationally, reimbursing people for flood damage costs about $5 billion a
> year, from disaster aid and related help. The Army Corps of Engineers, the
> agency charged with flood protection, seems committed to the new direction.
> "Napa will be the showcase, because there's nothing quite like it anywhere
> in the country," said Homer Perkins, a spokesman for the Army Corps of
> The test for Napa will come 10 years or so down the road, when the living
> river plan is complete. Johnston Block has an image of a benign river. "You
> will see a living river, a restored river downtown, with marhses and
> wildlife on one side and latte and wine on the other," she said.
> The Corps is more prosaic. "I think, five to 10 years from now, when it
> starts to rain in the winter, people will be able to sleep at night," Bowers
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command