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500-Acre Hidden Valley Ranch property acquired for increased flood safety, improved wildlife habitat management

Public-private partnership purchased $9.3M property adjacent to San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge

November 3, 2013 – Modesto, Calif. – Two California State agencies, a private development fund, and a group of non-profit environmental organizations today announced the purchase of a critical piece of agricultural property along the San Joaquin River near Stockton. The Hidden Valley Ranch property, which currently serves as 497-acre dairy and farming operation, will now become a keystone piece of a 10,000-acre non-structural flood control effort. The ranch abuts the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) and Dos Rios Ranch, which together provide undeveloped floodplain access for the San Joaquin and Tuolumne Rivers during times of high water.

“Giving rivers room to expand when waters are high is a cost-effective way to limit damage to populated areas, and also provides wildlife habitat,” said John Carlon, president of River Partners, the non-profit organization that is taking the lead in acquiring the property. “The acquisition of Hidden Valley Ranch will allow River Partners to restore a key stretch of floodplain and improve flood protection in the region, including for the City of Stockton.”

Hidden Valley Ranch includes 1.5 miles of San Joaquin River frontage. The adjacent Dos Rios Ranch and the Refuge are located at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers. By joining the Hidden Valley acreage with the Refuge and Dos Rios properties, there will now be a contiguous stretch of land that can be used to provide more room for these rivers during floods. Together, the three properties encompass both sides of the San Joaquin River for a five-mile reach. The land also provides essential habitat for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway and for fifteen species of animals that are listed as endangered, threatened, or species of concern on California State and/or Federal registries. In particular, this land would serve as critically needed floodplain rearing habitat for juvenile salmon and steelhead.

Hidden Valley Ranch and Dos Rios Ranch together comprise the entirety of the federal levee along the San Joaquin River managed by Reclamation District 2092. By purchasing this property for ecosystem restoration objectives, the Reclamation District is now able to move towards modifying the levee to reconnect the river with more than 1,000 acres of floodplain. These combined properties will ultimately be able to absorb approximately 10,000 acre-feet of floodwaters, reducing flood risk for the City of Stockton and other communities downstream of the properties.

The acquisition of Hidden Valley Ranch supports several state and federal flood protection and conservation initiatives, making its purchase an efficient use of public funds. The restoration of Hidden Valley and Dos Rios Ranches will provide additional benefits in the form of improved water quality and increased water supplies, and enhanced recreational opportunities. The restored habitat also reduces pressure on agricultural operations by helping to recover imperiled species and reducing local demand for water by retiring over 7,000 acre-feet of riparian water diversions annually.

“Hidden Valley Ranch is the key to reuniting the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers with an important stretch of floodplains,” said Steve Rothert, director of the California Regional Office of American Rivers, which played a key role in shepherding through the acquisition of the ranch. “Science is increasingly pointing to the importance of providing room for rivers to function as they did historically and help protect public safety during floods and save salmon and other threatened wildlife. When this floodplain is restored, lots of young salmon will be able to access it and get fat and happy on their way to the ocean. This approach also helps keep good farmland in production."

Hidden Valley Ranch was purchased for a total of $9.3 million. The River Islands Fund, which is a restoration fund created through a 2007 settlement between real estate developers and non-profit conservation organizations, provided the $300,000 deposit necessary to initiate the purchase. The River Islands Fund is managed by a partnership that includes real estate developer Susan Dell’Osso, Monty Schmitt of Natural Resources Defense Council, Greg Thomas of the Natural Heritage Institute, and John Cain of American Rivers. The deposit was critical to executing the purchase in a timely manner and enabled the acquisition to happen in a fraction of the time typically seen in this type of real estate transaction.

The State Wildlife Conservation Board provided $3 million and the State Department of Water Resources provided a $2.4 million Flood Corridor Program grant and a second FloodSAFE Environmental Stewardship and Statewide Resources Office $3.9 million grant to complete the purchase of the property. These funds were provided from voter-approved bonds including Proposition 84 - The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006; Proposition 1E – the Disaster Preparedness and Flood Protection Bond Act of 2006; and Proposition 117 – the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990. The Tuolumne River Trust will hold a conservation easement on the property to ensure it will remain undeveloped in perpetuity.  

“We all recognized the importance of acquiring this property because it exemplifies the new multi-benefit approach to improving flood management in the Central Valley,” said Monty Schmitt, San Joaquin River Restoration Project Manager with NRDC. “This project will improve public safety and the health of our rivers while also preserving agricultural lands.” 
The former owner of Hidden Valley Ranch was appropriately compensated for his voluntary sale of the ranch, which is located almost completely in the floodplain, and has relocated his operations to a less ecologically sensitive location in the area. In future efforts, River Partners will work to restore the property to a combination of natural habitat and wildlife-friendly agricultural practices. Once the restoration is complete, Hidden Valley Ranch is expected to provide ongoing public safety and ecological benefits.

For more information about the benefits of this land acquisition, see the attached project summary. Contact Nina Erlich-Williams at 510-336-9566 to set up interviews with the key players involved in the Hidden Valley Ranch purchase.

About American Rivers
American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.

About River Partners

River Partners has been restoring riparian habit for the benefit of people and the environment since 1998. The organization was founded by two conservation-minded farmers on the notion that the fields of habitat restoration and agriculture could work together. Since that time, River Partners' scientists and field technicians have planted more than 1.5 million native trees and shrubs, bringing life back more than eight-thousand of acres of critical riparian areas. River Partners played a key role in restoring the land that is now the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and is currently in the process of expanding those efforts on the adjacent Dos Rios Ranch at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne Rivers. For more information, see RiverPartners.org.

A PDF of this press release is available here.