Brilliant Bypass Flood Strategy

The planners that coped with floods in the early 1900s almost despaired from the frequent winter inundations in the Sacramento Valley.  Then they began set aside swaths of land for a flood bypass system that has since averted many a disaster.  The Sutter Bypass, while technically not in the Delta, is a flood bypass for the Feather River just above where it joins the Sacramento River.  The Sutter Bypass is just north of the Fremont Weir and Yolo Bypass and so is interconnected (a kind of cousin) to the water wheelhouse we call the Delta.

A wild stretch in Bypass between rice fields and Feather River.

A wild stretch in Bypass between rice fields and Feather River.

It is a wilder, wetter, more remote place than the Yolo Bypass.  There is no Highway 80 or Interstate 5 bisecting it. The Sutter National Wildlife Refuge is in the middle with rice fields and other farmland on either side. All along the Feather River is a stand of trees and native grass that is home to deer, coyotes and mountain lions.

Along Highway 113 in November--wherever there is water there are lots of birds

Along Highway 113 in November–outside the Bypass the farms have clean edges–still good for birds but not as wild as the Sutter Bypass

I was lucky to get a tour from a farm manager today (with keys to the gates) and see this relatively remote place. Wherever the rice was flooded for waterfowl there were flocks of swans and geese and other birds. We saw one coyote, four different kinds of hawks, buzzards, and deer.

The Central Valley Flood Control Board is discussing plans to expand the bypass system and it is controversial. Whenever a public agency talks about condemning aspects of private property rights–in this case, the ability to develop the land for something other than row or field crops or waterfowl habitat–there is a hew and cry.  Even in 1910, I bet there were more than a few angry letters to editor about the proposed bypass systems.  Now the wisdom of the system is so obvious.

The Sutter bypass will fill with cottonwoods without cultivated agriculture.

The Sutter bypass will fill with cottonwoods without cultivated agriculture.

It is best to plan for it before urban encroachment makes it political or economically unpalatable.  Natomas used to serve in much the same way as the Yolo Bypass. West Sacramento and Davis are hugging the Yolo Bypass.

It is relatively easy to connect fish from the Feather River to the Bypass for floodplain habitat in winter.

It is relatively easy to connect fish from the Feather River to the Bypass for floodplain habitat in winter.

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, New York and New Jersey are looking at the bypass systems in the Netherlands. They could also look to California. What would they find? Land that serves multiple beneficial purposes and one heck of a buffer from extreme weather.

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Central Valley Birders Flock to Symposium

Birders from Eureka to Los Angeles are gathered this weekend for the Central Valley Birding Symposium.  Over 300 avid birders are gathered for workshops, field trips and shopping at the Stockton Hilton Hotel. It is fun to meet passionate people. One man told me all about his interest in the largest owl in North America–the great grey owl–and his efforts to conserve it. Another birder told me of his travels; he has already seen 9 species of penguin!

The largest owl in North America reaches 30 inches tall and lives in the Cascade range.

The largest owl in North America reaches 30 inches tall and lives in the Cascade range.

Today, November 23rd, there are workshops on:

“No Birdbrains Here: The Latest on Learning, Instinct and Intelligence in Birds”

“Migration Patterns of Northern Saw-whet Owls near Forest Ranch, California”

A small owl species found in California.

A small owl species found in California.

Tomorrow November 24th, the workshops include:

“Seeing Rare Birds in California: Why our state list is the largest in the US at 652 species and you can help find more”

“Flycatcher ID Workshop”

Daily registration is $50 for adults.  There is a Birder’s Market and Art Display on the second floor with 28 exhibitors.  Everything from jewelry, photography, books, binoculars to bird related travel, and art.  I learned about an app related to the Sibley bird book that covers all of North America, features bird calls, and has a feature that allows you to compare two birds side by side.  The application in the Google Store is called Sibley birds of North America ($19.99).