Chapter 7: Napa River
Chapter 7 of “Our Watershed Stories,” introduces one of the Bay Area’s many “Resource Conservation Districts--” specifically, the one that serves the Napa Valley.
Jonathan Koehler is a biologist with the Napa Valley Resource Conservation District. “We promote good stewardship of the land on a voluntary basis,” he says. “So without regulation, we want people to do the right thing on their land.”
Early settlers in the Napa Valley found a beautiful, fertile plain. But they also found out that the valley flooded nearly every winter! “And so,” says, Koehler, “what’s happened is the construction of levies, filling in of side channels, creation of ditches. Getting it to the river faster. “ That strategy worked at first, until developed areas began paying the price whenever a major storm rolled in.
“The City of Napa worked closely with the Army Corps, recalls Koehler, ”and said okay, let’s come up with an alternative approach.”
Vineyard owners also took on the cause. A lot of landowners realized that “if we take the initiative and we say that this is the Napa River we would like, [that means] taking out bridges, widening the river where possible, and allowing flooding.”
Valuable riverside vineyards are now being removed to make room for restoration efforts like the Rutherford Reach project alongside the Napa River several miles north of the city.
“It’s a pretty small feature but if you think about the Napa River historically, it would have been much wider and much shallower,” says Koehler.
Cooperation and restoration is good for the cities, native fish and wildlife, and as Napa Valley has discover, it can be good for agriculture as well.