Flood Protection Revitalizes Downtown
Residents of Napa could have been excused for hoping the epic California drought might last longer. For years before, they had faced regular flooding, sandbags, road closures and massive damage when the Napa River spilled over its banks.
The Napa River is one of the last undammed rivers in California, running through some of the most valuable and well-known agricultural land in the country. The torrential rains of 2017 showed the value of the almost-completed Napa River Flood Control Project. It took a lot of community work to get there. We helped form and facilitate a Community Coalition of more than 20 community-based organizations and the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a local flood protection plan that would be environmentally sensitive and financially feasible for Napa County. The community agreed on a revolutionary solution to flood control: remove the existing system of dikes and levees and allow the river to run free.
The “Living River Strategy” is now an award-winning national model for integrated flood protection and watershed management and a nationally recognized collaborative model for multi-agency, multi-purpose public works projects.
Residents passed a half-cent sales tax to provide local funding for the projects. With nearly $400 million worth of bridge relocations, flood plain terracing, channel widening, natural bank stabilizations, and floodwalls completed, the Napa Creek and Oxbow Bypass elements are fully functional. When Downtown Napa was removed from FEMA flood plain mapping, more than $1 billion in private investment led to hotels, shops, restaurants and tasting rooms—a revitalization of the entire Downtown.
The project received a National Planning Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.