SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 11, 2009) -- A long-sought compromise has been reached to settle a decades-old flooding issue along Orestimba Creek in Newman, Calif., thanks to one of Sacramento District's own.

Sara Schultz, a water resources planner in the Sacramento District planning division, is the 2008 recipient of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Excellence Award. Schultz was recognized for her success in bringing together the people of Newman with state and federal agencies involved in the project, and for employing planning strategies that rejuvenated the once-stalled Orestimba Creek Feasibility Study. The study looked at ways to reduce flood damage in Newman and surrounding agricultural areas. By identifying a workable solution, she garnered a broad coalition of support from the sponsor, local landowners, agency representatives and interest groups.

"It's a surprise and an honor," Schultz said about being selected. "It is so nice to be recognized. Everyone on the team should be recognized, as well. It was a group effort."

An array of alternative plans was developed in the 10 years since the feasibility study began. Schultz said that they were evaluated based on economic benefits, hydraulic effectiveness, overall costs, real estate requirements and potential environmental effects. Newman was flooded in 1995 and 1998.

David VanRijn, deputy, Civil Works, and senior project manager, said her efforts never go unnoticed.

"Sara has been an incredible asset to the team. Her understanding of the Corps planning process is outstanding," VanRijn said. "Sara has provided the team with focus and direction in the development of the problems, opportunities and alternatives. Her guidance has pulled this project out of eight years of unfocused analysis. This planning guidance and leadership has exponentially increased progress and prevented wasteful analysis keeping the project on budget.

"One of Sara's biggest strengths is her ability to take complex policies and regulations and explain them in a way that team members, congressional members, media, sponsors, and stakeholders understand the issue and how they interrelate," VanRijn continued. "This team would not be on budget, focused and engaged without Sara. Sara's skills and ability has also established a positive and trusting relationship with our sponsors, giving the Corps an excellent reputation with these sponsors."

After the 1998 flood event, local government officials contacted the Corps for assistance. A feasibility study was initiated in 1999.

Early in the study, local interests supported the construction of a dry dam at the mouth of the Orestimba Creek Canyon. Various agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, opposed the dam alternative as creating effects to the existing Sycamore Alluvial Woodland at that site, which could not be mitigated.

For several years, the project was at an impasse, as the dam supporters claimed it was the only way to provide flood protection to the study area and the dam opponents claimed the costs and environmental effects would be too high. When Schultz became involved with the project four years ago, she and the rest of the planning team persuaded the project stakeholders to step back and re-examine the full range of alternatives to solve the flooding problems.

"That is the way the planning process works," Schultz said. "We develop the costs and benefits of each of the alternatives. Then we determine which alternative has the highest net benefits or basically the most benefits over costs." The alternative with the highest net benefits becomes the plan the Corps recommends.

The team identified a chevron levee alternative, which would construct levees 3-to-4 feet high around the town to protect it from flooding. Local residents weren't happy at first about that idea, because some of them lived outside of the protected area.

So the Corps began looking at the creek channel, Schultz said, and noticed that the middle of the channel was constricted. They looked at doubling the flow of the channel.

The Newman residents accepted this hybrid plan, which was a combination of a levee to protect the town and widening of the channel to protect the agricultural area.

"We had achieved a major breakthrough," said Schultz, who began working for the Corps in 1998. "We had all pulled together. Using the planning process, we were able to get people all on board.

"We identified the problem, looked at all the potential solutions to find the best solution," she added.

The hybrid plan was created last fall and presented to Newman residents in February. The agencies, including Fish and Wildlife, support the new plan. The project is still in the feasibility stage, but getting to this point has taken 10 years. The final feasibility report is expected next spring.

"I'm happy that we are moving forward on a deserving project, and will make it work for everyone's benefit," Schultz said.

Her recognition marks the second year in a row a Sacramento District employee won the award. Michael Dietl received the 2007 award.

Editor's note: Public Affairs Specialist Carlos Lazo contributed to this article