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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s