Napa River Rutherford Restoration
California’s Napa River flows 55 miles through one of the most scenic landscapes in northern California. The Napa River is now as much as three times deeper in sections than it once was and erosion is a major problem. Bed erosion and disconnection of the river from its floodplain and former side channels removed spawning and rearing habitat for as many as 8,000 migrating steelhead and Chinook salmon, while increasing the vulnerability of adjacent vineyards to erosion and seasonal flooding.
ESA has spent nearly a decade collaborating with Napa County, regulatory agencies, and local landowners and vineyard managers on California’s largest floodplain and wildlife habitat restoration project. ESA’s team of fluvial geomorphologists, restoration specialists, and engineers are working with stakeholders to develop, design, permit, and implement this 14-mile restoration plan for the Napa River. This multi-objective project is designed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat, reduce bank erosion, enhance flood management by adding 135 acres of floodplain, and reduce Pierce’s disease (a bacterial plant pathogen) in vineyards.
The restoration plan, developed and implemented by ESA, involves setting back agricultural berms and creating a series of restoration nodes where the river can spread out into multiple channels and backwater alcoves. This gives migrating adult and rearing juvenile salmonids a place to take refuge from the mainstem during high flows, and also creates conditions for riffle-pool formation. With 2.5 miles of the 4.5-mile Rutherford Reach successfully implemented, fisheries biologists have noted an increase in spawning habitat as well as documented reduced flow velocities within the project areas.
This project is one of the most ambitious ecosystem restoration projects initiated by agricultural landowners in California. The results of extensive research and landowner coordination are finally being realized as the effective restoration design that protects both natural and agricultural resources is constructed, monitored, and adapted for improvement. This project, as well as others based on the Rutherford model, will demonstrate the feasibility of voluntary private-public partnerships to restore the nation’s waters within California and beyond. ESA was formally recognized by the California State Legislature for innovative design and technical leadership of the Rutherford Reach Restoration Project.