Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
After more than a century of building levees higher to hold back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room to spread out instead.
The plan, adopted by the flood-control board for the Central Valley, a 500-mile swathe from Mount Shasta to Bakersfield that includes the state’s two largest rivers and the United States’ richest agricultural region, emphasizes flood plains, wetlands and river bypasses as well as levees.
Backers say the changing strategy will better handle the rising seas and heavier rain of climate change, which is projected to send two-thirds more water thundering down the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River at times of flooding.
The idea: “Spread it out, slow it down, sink it in, give the river more room,” said Kris Tjernell, special assistant for water policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency.
Handled right, the effort will allow farmers and wildlife — including native species harmed by the decades of concrete-heavy flood-control projects — to make maximum use of the rivers and adjoining lands as well, supporters say.
They point to Northern California’s Yolo Bypass, which this winter again protected California’s capital, Sacramento, from near-record rains. Wetlands and flood plains in the area allow rice farmers, migratory birds and baby salmon all to thrive there.
For farmers, the plan offers help moving to crops more suitable to seasonally flooded lands along rivers, as well as payments for lending land to flood control and habitat support.