Five California waterways are in the running for federal funding in a new program to help restore and protect their environmental features while building protection against floods.
A federal water bill signed by President Clinton last August listed the waterways. The program is another sign of a dramatic shift in how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approaches flood control. Instead of trying to control water flows and protect every structure from harm's way, under the new Challenge 21 (also called Section 212) program, the Corps will remove people and structures from places where there has been repeated flooding. Rather than adding more concrete, dams and levees, flood control efforts will incorporate natural features, provide more open space along waterways, and encourage habitat and wetlands restoration.
The bill for the five-year demonstration project provided that "studies and projects [under Section 212] shall emphasize, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate, nonstructural approaches to preventing or reducing flood damages."
"It represents a new way of thinking about the flood plain," said Michael Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for public works. "While structural approaches have worked well in the past, and will continue in some cases to work well in the future, we want to make sure that nonstructural options are considered fully."
The Challenge 21 program should, Davis said, "demonstrate that nonstructural approaches and ecosystem restoration ... is a good thing and will reduce flooding and improve our environment."
The bill authorized $200 million over five years, with the first allocations expected after October 2000. Local and state governments must pay up to 35 percent of the cost of any environmental restoration or nonstructural flood control project, and the federal government picks up the rest of the tab.
The five California waterways named as priority areas are:
o The Coachella Valley in Riverside County.
o Murrieta Creek in Riverside County.
o Napa River watershed, in Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and American Canyon.
o Santa Clara basin, including the Upper Guadelupe River and its tributaries, San Francisquito Creek, which runs through Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, and Upper Penitencia Creek.
o Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers.
California has the largest number of priority areas in the legislation, followed by Pennsylvania with three waterways. Davis said he expects that ultimately 10 to 15 projects will be funded under Challenge 21, even though the bill listed 23 priority watersheds. And with a cap of $30 million per project, it is unlikely that the concrete-lined Los Angeles River will be torn up. More likely, the money might fund a small wetlands restoration along the river, he said. Guidelines for projects should be released in several months, and Davis expects communities outside the priority areas might also to apply for funds.
"Listing projects simply means that when money is appropriated for Challenge 21, these are probably the projects that will be considered first," said Peter Moreno, water resources project assistant with the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C. "Authorization of Challenge 21 does not guarantee that these projects will be funded. That is up to the appropriations process."
The Clinton administration had requested $325 million for the program. "Overall," Moreno said, "Challenge 21 was a major accomplishment, even though the funding levels were below the administration's request. The Corps' ability to carry out voluntary property buyouts and other nonstructural alternatives will help to direct floodplain management in this country toward more sustainable, environmentally friendly ends."
"I think it's great," said Ron Stork, senior policy advocate for Friends of the River in Sacramento. While applauding the new program, Stork added, "the demand far exceeds the resources."
The program adopted by Congress incorporates many of the features of a $200 million project already underway in Napa Valley to restore the Napa River. Most of that money is designated for the city of Napa, which has experienced regular flooding from winter storms during the last 10 years. (See CP&DR Environment Watch, May 1998.) Up to 675 acres of marshes and wetlands are being restored or preserved, trees and bushes are being planted and a recreational trail is planned. A total of $6 million in local funding is being provided through a voter-approved sales tax.
The Napa program was developed through negotiations between local officials and the Army Corps of Engineers and marked a shift from the Corps' traditional role of dam-builder.
With funding from the Challenge 21 program, more money could be spent on river restoration and flood control outside Napa in other parts of the county, according to County Supervisor Mike Rippey.
While efforts to restore the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers are moving slowly, proponents see the possible money as a way to restore parts of the rivers to a more natural state. A meeting to discuss the new program with the head of the Army Corps of Engineers and local environmentalists was planned for mid-December, said Melanie Winter, executive director of Friends of the Los Angeles River.
Additional money may be provided to river restoration projects in Los Angeles County if separate parks and water bonds pass during March's state primary, she said. Money could be used, among other ways, to remove industrial warehouses lining river banks to create more open space, or to add retention basins to save water and reduce the amount of stormwater in the river beds.
The new approach by the Army Corps of Engineers is not the only change in flood control efforts at the federal level. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has taken a harder line in recent years toward rebuilding in areas recovering from floods. The House of Representatives is considering a bill, co-sponsored by Representative Doug Bereuter, (R-Nebraska) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), that would restrict property owners from retaining subsidized federal flood insurance if their properties have been damaged more than once. The bill, H.R. 2728, has the official title of "Two floods and you are out of the taxpayer's pocket act of 1999." Another similar bill, H.R. 1297, the Repetitive Flood Loss Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Ken Bentsen, (D-Texas) has also been introduced.
Davis said the Corps intends to work with other federal agencies such as FEMA, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it plans the projects.
Michael Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, (703) 697-3366.
Ron Stork, Friends of the River (916) 442-3155.
Peter Moreno, National Wildlife Federation (202) 797-6697.
Mike Rippey, Supervisor, Napa County (707) 253-4386.
Melanie Winter, Executive Director, Friends of the LA River, (323) 223-0585.
San Diego County has been a national leader in habitat conservation planning, setting aside areas where rare and endangered species can thrive in the midst of ongoing development. Now, 12 years after a plan for the southern, inland part of the county was adopted, a second habitat plan has been released, this time for the inland North County.
Wetlands used to cover a huge swath of Southern California's coast, serving as a sanctuary for wildlife and plants. But today one is hard pressed to find many wetlands left in this urbanized section of the state, where homes, marinas and ports long ago replaced native habitat. While wide, sandy beaches and rocky tide pools are part of the Southern California landscape, quieter wetlands with estuaries, marshes and sand dunes are harder to find.
The Salton Sea sits likes a time bomb in the desert, serving up a brew of bad smells, turgid waters and the potential to increase air pollution in an area where thousands of homes are planned. But under a proposal making its way through the Legislature, some of the sea's lurking hazards may be stopped. Instead, the Salton Sea may be shrunk to a third of its current 240,000 acres and revived as a recreational lake for sport fish and migrating birds. All it will take is billions of dollars and at least 75 years of maintenance.
Placer County is finalizing its first land conservation plan, designed to keep 60,000 acres from being developed in the rapidly-growing region northeast of Sacramento. An initial conservation map for the western part of Placer County was adopted by the Board of Supervisors during late January, and a final map could be approved later this year.
It's easy to overlook the San Diego River, especially as it reaches the final stretch of its 52-mile journey from the inland mountains to San Diego's Mission Bay. The river is not a focal point of Mission Valley, as it winds past the parking lots of hotels, shopping centers and Qualcomm Stadium.
One of the most difficult parts of making environmental changes is bringing all the parties to the table. Sometimes it takes lawsuits, sometimes it takes political pressure. In the case of the Sacramento River in California's Central Valley, it has taken 13 years of meetings among environmentalists, government officials and farmers to gain consensus and cement ties for a group to coordinate a river restoration project along a huge portion of the 373-mile river.
The best-known and most conte...
Recent actions by two water boards signal a movement in the state towards greater regulation of non-point water pollution. The new regulations could start a trend in California of tightened development standards, which have already taken hold elsewhere in the country.
The biggest step was taken in Los Angeles, where the local Regional Water Quality Control Board voted in January to set measurable numerical standards for treating stormwater runoff in new development throughout Los Angeles Co...
The Salton Sea is sometimes referred to as Southern California's Lake Tahoe, and while efforts to save the northern lake took shape 20 years ago, officials only now are making big decisions about the future environmental health of the southern water body. The Salton Sea (which is also sometimes called a lake) has been in a downward environmental spiral in recent years. Rising salinity, warnings about eating its fish, oxygen depleting algal blooms, and the deaths of thousands of birds and fish ...
Forced by a lawsuit to incorporate the California Environmental Quality Act process into the way it issues streambed and lake alteration permits, the California Department of Fish & Game has issued new procedures that will require more property owners to do greater environmental review before they undertake such projects.
Every permit (often called a "1600" for a section of the Fish and Game Code) will be examined to see how CEQA applies, according to Jim Steele, a DFG program manage...
Ever since the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly was listed as an endangered species in 1993, it has been a poster child for opponents of the federal Endangered Species Act. Now, the fly is the latest endangered species to take center stage in the continually urbanizing Inland Empire.
Other controversial endangered species, such as the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly and the gnatcatcher, can at least win support for aesthetic reasons.
But a fly? Few people are easily convinced of the redeeming value...
The next big thing in water quality management — measuring specific pollutants in bodies of water and setting limits for those pollutants — is likely to impact land use and planning, but the exact ramifications remain unclear.
After years of delay, federal and state agencies are developing definitions to show how much pollution can be allowed in a water body before it becomes polluted. These definitions are known as total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs.
Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Wat...
The Quino Checkerspot Butterfly is the latest endangered species to cause confusion and controversy in Southern California, joining such famed animals as the Stephens kangaroo rat, the California gnatcatcher and the Delhi sands flower loving fly.
The butterfly was at first thought to live only in a few regions of Riverside and San Diego counties, where colonies have been found. But the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a map in January showing potential Quino Checkerspot habitat in parts o...