California City Restores Floodplain and Protects Against Drought and Floods

News » Incidents

 California City Restores Floodplain, Protects From Drought and Floods

When devastating flooding hit California last month, Grayson's community – a city of 1,300 tucked between almond orchards and dairy farms where the San Joaquin and Tuolumn rivers meet, – survived without serious injury.

According to some city dwellers and experts, this is partly due to the 850 hectares of former farmland just beyond the San Joaquin that have been restored to a natural floodplain. Proponents of restoring the floodplain argue it could help address California's twin hazards of flood and drought, replenish supplies groundwater to combat future droughts and protect cities from catastrophic flooding that scientists predict will come with climate change. Restoration also improves wildlife habitat.

“Everything worked out exactly as planned”– analyzes Julie Rentner, president of River Partners, a non-profit organization that bought land from private owners and restored much of the natural landscape by allowing flood waters that were once contained by dams to flow down the river.

The $50 million project was funded primarily by federal, state and local grants, Rentner said. Last month saw the first major test since the landscape was changed by destroying dams, creating swamps and with the help of about 40 volunteers from the city replacing invasive plant species with native ones.

Experts say floodplain restoration can help save nearby cities. River Partners has restored 8,100 ha on 200 tons of land worth $185 million and has identified another 40,000 ha for floodplain restoration in the San Joaquin Valley. Other NGOs and the government are also restoring floodplains.
Future drought relief or flood protection could take years, but fish have already benefited from the January storms. In the Willow Bend floodplain along the Sacramento River, for the first time in many years, a floodplain teeming with native fish, including endangered spring salmon, was discovered.

Much of the Central Valley was once was a vast wetland until 20th-century engineers bent nature to their will by redirecting the threat of flooding with dams, concrete irrigation canals, and flood control projects. While providing an economic boom, the colossal reconfiguration has also created today's predicament for endangered fish and saline soil.

Reclaimed floodplains should improve water quality in cities like Grayson, where groundwater is so polluted with nitrates that the water authorities must purify them using ion exchange.

Follow us on Telegram

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *