Residents say 'cheers' to flood protection in Napa
August 7, 2012
NAPA, Calif.-- Hear the word, "Napa" and what often comes to mind includes wine, lush landscapes, remarkable restaurants and resorts. About six million visitors flock to Napa each year. Like any other tourist destination, Napa is home to everyday residents. Unlike some other destinations, however, parts of Napa, including all of its charming, lively downtown, are in a floodplain. Local residents, business owners, employees and tourists are susceptible to the effects of flooding in Napa. Numerous floods have ravaged the city; the most recent one took place over New Year's Eve 2005/ New Year's Day 2006 and caused more than $70 million in property damage.
"After every flood, some businesses close; some people move away," said Napa County Flood Control & Water Conservation District's Julie Blue Lucido P.E. "Practically every winter, if not every other winter, you can walk around in November and December and see sandbags stacked by the door fronts. There is certainly an anxiety that goes with living in a floodplain," she said.
The Napa River Flood Protection Project, a Sacramento District project with construction management support by the San Francisco District, is essential to reduce the impact of flooding in Napa. The goal of the project, currently under construction, is to provide 100-year flood protection. Its additional benefits, supporters argue, include improving the local economy and relieving angst too.
The cost of civil works projects is often shared by local, state and federal agencies. Although Napa voters approved a sales tax increase to fund their portion of the Napa River Flood Protection Project in 1998, it took more than a decade to get the momentum on the project going due to a variety of factors including lack of federal funds. With the advent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Napa River Flood Protection Project, deemed shovel-ready, was infused with the funds needed to make significant progress.
Rapid advancements have not come at the expense of the environment, explained Lucido.
"There is a balancing act we are doing with our flood project here in Napa. Even though we are not an ecosystem restoration project by authorization, we are implementing strategies to restore the environment, to create those important ecosystem restoration pieces," she said.
Wherever possible, bioengineered solutions were chosen, including rootwads, which are tree roots adjacent to streams that provide useful habitat for fish and other aquatic life, explained Iris Chavez, a civil engineer with the San Francisco District. Chavez is one of the personnel overseeing construction of the project. As a Napa resident herself, she is excited about the benefits the project will bring for her community, she said.
Since parts of the project, including floodwalls, coil through downtown, maintaining the Spanish Colonial and Victorian Gothic style of Napa was carefully incorporated into the project design.
Although portions of the project are being constructed in highly trafficked and even residential areas, most people are forgiving of the noise and traffic closures, because they support the benefits this project will bring, said Chavez.
One long-time resident who agrees is retired high school teacher, Frank Kerr.
"This is really a win for all the people who live in this area," he said. "I think the people who are bothered by the construction are the people who have moved into the area after the most recent flood," he added. "If you weren't here for the last flood you may not understand what it's like and you may be concerned with streets being closed and the noise, but the people that have been through these floods, they are happy to see this (project) happening, very happy," he said.
Kerr has lived in the local area for more than 60 years.
A much-welcomed byproduct of flood protection could be investment in Napa, Lucido said.
"Providing a safer town has allowed new businesses to come in, folks to restore their homes, especially the historic homes," said Lucido. "People are willing to invest money here, so (the project) is creating a safer, happier community; a more vital community," she said.
With the project moving forward at a rapid pace, residents, business owners, employees and tourists are likely to continue enjoying Napa's charm with a much reduced risk of suffering the effects of flooding.