Multi-benefit projects are designed to reduce flood risk and enhance fish and wildlife habitat by allowing rivers and floodplains to function more naturally. These projects create additional public benefits such as protecting farms and ranches, improving water quality, increasing groundwater recharge, and providing public recreation opportunities, or any combination thereof.
A New Vision for flood protection:
A Win-Win for Public Safety, the Economy, and our Air, Land and Water
In 2008, the State of California adopted a new vision for flood protection in the Central Valley. The Central Valley Flood Protection Act of 2008 recognized that there are many tools available to protect communities from flooding and that a comprehensive approach to flood protection planning could address multiple policy priorities at the same time.
Why is a new vision needed? The existing flood management system was designed in a past era when less was known about how the river system worked and how rivers sustained fish and wildlife populations. For instance, the function of floodplains to help with long-term flood control (particularly with regard to the effects of climate change) and their critical importance to wildlife and fish was not well understood at the time the system was built. Accordingly, the present approach to flood control relies on large levees located immediately adjacent to the river bank, which concentrate and exacerbate floodwater pressure.
Levees also deny fish and other wildlife access to floodplain rearing and feeding areas now understood to be critical to their populations.
The Central Valley Flood Protection Act set standards for local governments throughout the region for land use and flood protection planning that limit risks to public safety and achieve multiple benefits. While engineered structures like levees play an important part in flood protection, the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan (CVFPP) recognizes that restoring floodplains minimizes flood-related damage.
“Room for the River”
By identifying opportunities for modifying or setting back levees and giving the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers room to access to their traditional floodplains in targeted areas, the CVFPP set a course for flood protection that meets multiple policy priorities:
- Enhancing public safety. Rivers that have room to expand during times of high flows will be less likely to breach levees and other flood protection structural elements, keeping people safer.
- Reducing costly flood damage. Flood damages in California are more costly on average than earthquakes and wildfires – combined.
- Protecting fish and wildlife. Floodplains provide valuable habitat for mammals, beneficial insects, migratory birds, juvenile salmon and other aquatic life.
- Protecting working farms and ranches. With proper planning, compatible agricultural uses can continue to function in designated floodplains as farmers have throughout the Central Valley for generations.
- Providing recreational opportunities. Rivers and floodplains are a place for people to connect with natural areas by hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing or kayaking, and viewing wildlife. By creating public access points to rivers, multi-benefit projects protect private landowners from concerns about trespassing.
- Addressing public health concerns. The Central Valley is plagued by high rates of childhood obesity and asthma. Improving access to natural areas gives families a reason to head outdoors and get active.
- Improving water quality. Floodplains and forests alongside rivers and streams act as “nature’s water filter” and help to reduce pollution in river water.
- Contributing to water supply reliability. When rivers have room to expand, they can replenish groundwater stores and temporarily store excess water for later use downstream (like a sponge). Natural areas along the river’s edge do not require irrigation and can leave more high quality water in the river for downstream uses.
- Easing the permitting process. For owners of land around rivers and streams, taking a multi-benefit approach to improvements can make it easier to meet local, state and federal requirements intended to safeguard fish and wildlife.
- Reducing costs by moving beyond mitigation. Projects that take a multi-benefit approach fold in safeguards for fish and wildlife from the outset, making it possible to share development costs with public agencies and/or conservation groups, and alleviating the need to invest in off-site projects to improve outcomes for native species.
- Preparing for extreme weather events and climate change. The Delta region is one of the most vulnerable regions in the nation to catastrophic flooding. Taking a multi-benefit approach to flood protection will alleviate the worst impacts of a large-scale Central Valley flood. Proper planning will address likely events such as sea level rise, heavier rains and earlier mountain snowmelt.