napavalleyregister.com | August 04, 2015 –
Bring on the big, drought-breaking storms. The Napa downtown flood control bypass is ready for action.
About 200 people came out on a cool, cloudy Tuesday morning for the dedication of the $18.5 million bypass. They gathered under the concrete bridge that carries the Napa Valley Wine Train, some sitting on concrete blocks designed to slow the speed of floodwaters.
“This is a great day for all of us,” said Col. Eric McFadden, deputy commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific division. “This dedication represents the culmination of more than a decade’s work.”
The bypass is about a quarter-mile long and 300 feet wide, linking the Oxbow district and downtown. When it’s not carrying floodwaters – which will be most of the time – it will serve as Oxbow Commons park, with walking trails and a kayak launch.
The bypass will reduce flooding risks in such areas as the Oxbow district, Napa Expo and part of downtown, county flood control officials said. It will help keep the Napa River from spilling its banks at the Oxbow curve by carrying floodwaters.
Napa has been hit over 70 years by 15 significant floods, Corps officials said. That’s an average of a major flood about every five years, though Napa’s last big flood came in late 2005.
Tuesday’s dedication ceremony could be only the first of many public gatherings in the bypass.
“What about the farmers market?” county Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht told the enthusiastic crowd. “Bike Fest and other events?”
It was a day for remembering. Moira Johnston Block, founding president of Friends of the Napa River, recalled how 43 people squeezed into her living room 22 years ago to talk about Napa River problems.
That discussion helped launch the Napa River flood control project in the late 1990s. The project included creating wetlands and floodplains, replacing bridges, relocating buildings and cleaning up toxic materials. It focused on restoring a “living river,” rather than turning the river into a concrete channel, such as the Los Angeles River.
“You need to know this project has national significance and historical significance,” Ann Riley of the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board said.
In that sense, the flood control bypass is the latest crowning achievement of a much larger Napa River flood control project. The groundbreaking ceremony for the bypass took place in April 2014.
It was the Army Corps that eight decades ago tried to tame the Los Angeles River with concrete. The Napa flood bypass includes concrete, especially under the bridges, but is to be largely landscaped areas—once the landscaping takes hold—with a tidal channel running up the middle.
“This is an excellent example of what flood risk reduction should look like,” said Tambour Eller, deputy district engineer for project management with the Army Corps.
In that spirit, the Army Corps is looking at returning to the Los Angeles River to remove concrete along 11 miles and restore habitat.
Rep. Mike Thompson said the Napa flood project helps refute the notion that Washington, D.C. is where good ideas go to die.
Several speakers mentioned the collaboration among the Napa community and state and federal governments to make the Napa River flood project happen. They don’t want that collaboration to end. The flood control plan calls for such yet-to-be-built features as flood walls along the river near Lincoln Avenue.
Mayor Jill Techel said 2,000 properties in the city are still at risk of flooding.
“We’re not done,” she told the crowd.
Also speaking during the hour-long dedication ceremony were state Sen. Lois Wolk, Assemblyman Bill Dodd and Friends of Napa River President Bernhard Krevet. Meanwhile, people strolled on the nearby paths, walking dogs and enjoying Napa’s newest flood control feature that doubles as a park.