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Working with California’s Comprehensive & Flexible Approach to Flood Protection

By Irv Schiffman

While River Partners has recently expanded its activities to areas beyond the Central Valley, the Valley continues to be the location of its major riparian restoration efforts, primarily in the Sacramento River and San Joaquin watersheds. And much of this work is under the regulatory authority and vision of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.

The Board has a long history in California. Its origin goes back to 1911 with the Legislature’s creation of the Reclamation Board with jurisdiction over the Sacramento Valley’s local levee maintaining agencies and, later, over the San Joaquin Valley’s levee maintaining agencies as well. In 1956 the Board was placed under the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to facilitate cooperation in their various areas of concern.

River Partners involvement with the Reclamation Board was primarily concerned with requesting encroachment permits allowing it to restore acres of floodplain to riparian forests through its planting programs. Such permits were (and are) required before beginning any project on or near a federal or state levee or any flood control structure within the Board’s jurisdictional area.

In 2007 major changes were made in California’s approach to flood control. The State Reclamation Board’s name was changed to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board to be comprised of seven voting members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate for fixed four-year terms. The Board was made a separate agency, independent of DWR, and given its own funding in the Governor’s budget. It received expanded responsibilities in a number of areas including encroachment enforcement, report preparation, and local land use decision-making.

The 2007 legislation also required DWR to prepare, and the Board to adopt, a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP) by July 2012. Moreover, and most significantly, it mandated cities and counties to make their floodplain land-use plans and zoning consistent with the CVFPP.

The Plan, adopted by the Board on June 29, 2012, provides a comprehensive effort to link the many resources that affect the state’s flood protection efforts. It coincides with the mission of River Partners in many particulars, including in its call for both structural and non-structural approaches to flood protection and means for enabling or improving riverine ecosystem functions. Specifically, the Plan proposes to restore thousands of acres of riparian habitat in the floodplains as well as increase flood system capacity by “setting back levees away from the active river channel.”

River Partners welcomes the expanded responsibilities of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and the visionary contents of the CVFPP that it will administer. We look forward to working in close harmony with the Board and providing whatever assistance we can offer to contribute to the success of the Plan and to California’s flood protection efforts.

The above article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of the River Partners Journal.