‘Living river’ rejuvenates Napa, brings needed flood control
April 30, 2017
The flood control project that has transformed downtown Napa is everything that’s out of favor in today’s spiteful political scene. It is complex and nuanced, forged by people from across the ideological spectrum working together. It combines old-school engineering with a far-sighted focus on environmental needs.
When this rainy season’s biggest storms hit the Bay Area in January, Napa’s year-old Oxbow bypass was put to the test. It passed with flying colors.
Waters from the Napa River surged over the willow-fringed bank of the bypass, spilling across young lawns and a plaza into recently restored wetlands, where they collided with the amplified rush of Napa Creek.
In other words, it performed exactly as predicted back in 1998, when Napa County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund their portion of a multifaceted flood control project through the city of 80,000.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had planned on doing business as usual — channeling the river deeper while fortifying its edges with rip-rap. The bypass, a 250-foot-wide by 800-foot-long path that relieves pressure on the river’s C-shaped bend through the aptly named Oxbow District, would have been a stark concrete culvert.
But groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the Napa Chamber of Commerce had a more ambitious vision: a 7-mile-long “living river” that would improve fish and wildlife habitat while adding trails and a downtown waterfront promenade. It also would protect 3,000 properties that were officially classified as vulnerable to flooding — a red flag that had dampened…