Central Valley Flood Protection Board to Adopt Dramatically New Flood Plan to Reduce Flood Risks and Restore Ecosystem Health

August 25, 2017

Contact: John Cain, American Rivers, [email protected], (510) 388-8930 (c)
Jacob Katz, CalTrout, [email protected], (707) 477-9878 (c)
Rene Henery, Trout Unlimited, [email protected], (415) 640-0927 (c)

Sacramento, CA – On August 25, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board is anticipated to chart a dramatically new course to reduce the risk to the public posed by catastrophic flooding, by adopting the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan Update. The CVFPP is designed to improve flood protection for over one million Californians and $70 billion in homes, businesses and infrastructure with the objective of providing 200-year flood protection to urban areas while reducing flood risks to small communities and agricultural lands. The meeting agenda, location and webcast link can be found here.

For the past three decades, the central strategy in the state’s effort to reduce flood risk has been to “strengthen in place” – simply building larger and higher levees. That approach provides unreliable flood protection and results in a wide range of impacts, including reduced groundwater recharge and damage to ESA listed species, the state’s most important salmon runs and jobs in the fishing industry. The plan that the Flood Board is expected to adopt includes a dramatically new flood management approach.

This new approach, called multi-benefit flood management, is explained in detail in the Conservation Strategy, which will be adopted as part of the Flood Plan. In short, the multi-benefit approach recognizes that by strategically expanding floodplains, floodways and flood bypasses, we can reduce flood risk to people and property while providing a host of additional benefits.

According to John Cain, Director of Conservation for California Flood Management at American Rivers, “Giving rivers and floodways more room to carry flood waters is the best way to protect communities from dangerous floods, and giving rivers more room provides multiple benefits including clean water, parks, and habitat for fish and wildlife. Giving rivers more room is a proven flood management strategy that has been implemented successfully around the world, including in the Netherlands, where the Dutch are implementing an ambitious “Room for the River” program.”

In addition to providing improving flood protection and reducing maintenance costs, the multi-benefit approach helps restore the health of our rivers, by increasing floodplain habitat and food production for salmon, listed species, waterbirds and other wildlife. This approach can provide a wide range of additional benefits, including increasing groundwater recharge, new recreational opportunities and parks for Central Valley communities, decreasing the risk of Delta levee failures that threaten South of Delta water users, improving water quality, and preserving working agricultural land.

The new CVFPP’s emphasis on expanding floodways to achieve multiple benefits builds on the successful flood bypass system first implemented in California a century ago. After severe floods in the early twentieth century, decision makers agreed on a plan to expand Central Valley floodways, including the Yolo Bypass, which protects Sacramento and neighboring communities. This bypass system has been highly successful, but has not been expanded for more than half a century. Instead, flood managers focused solely on building bigger and stronger levees. This approach failed catastrophically in New Orleans, forcing engineers to rethink their approach. The new CVFPP proposes new multi-benefit projects, including expanding the Yolo Bypass and creating a new flood bypass along the lower San Joaquin River at Paradise Cut.

Expanding floodways is essential to accommodate the larger floods that are expected to arise from a changing climate. Analysis developed to inform the plan determined that the risk of catastrophic flooding is increasing as a result of climate change. For example, peak flood events along the rapidly urbanizing lower San Joaquin River are projected to increase by as much as 80% in the future and would be twice as large as the disastrous 1997 flood. The warming climate will result in increased storm intensity and more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow.

Even while the CVFPP was being developed, more than a dozen multi-benefit projects were being planned or built across the Central Valley. Some of these projects are already providing a broad range of benefits to Californians and the state’s natural resources. At Friday’s meeting, the board will also vote to permit a project to place a small notch in Fremont Weir, the weir that controls flow into the Yolo Bypass, to enable adult fish passage by endangered salmon and sturgeon.

This dramatically new approach to flood management has been supported by a wide range of stakeholders, including consensus recommendations from an Advisory Committee that includes agricultural interests, local flood agencies, scientists, environmental and fishing representatives and more.

“Multi-benefit projects that simultaneously enhance the river ecosystem and improve flood safety are key to building a water system that works for both fish and people,” said Jacob Katz, senior scientist with CalTrout. “That’s why this new direction is broadly supported by farmers, flood agencies, scientists, conservationists and fishing groups. It’s rare and powerful for such a dramatic change in California water policy to be driven by a consensus in the stakeholder community. ”

Rene Henery, California Science Director for Trout Unlimited, stated that, “The new Flood Plan is an ambitious, science-based, collaborative effort that maps out the path to a more integrated and resilient California; it serves as a model for the nation on how we can adapt to climate change and reduce flood risk with carefully designed multi-benefit projects.”


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American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters and volunteers.

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