Did Floodplain Restoration Spare This Town From Disaster?

Grayson is a small, majority Latino farming town in California’s Central Valley. The San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers meet here, and the town is at serious risk of flooding when it rains. But the atmospheric rivers that swept the state last month left Grayson virtually unscathed. Experts credit a $50 million floodplain restoration project with saving the town.

"It performed exactly as planned," Julie Rentner, President of River Partners, told Reuters.  

Rentner’s team purchased 2,100 acres of former farmland through federal, state and local grants and restored it to a native riparian forest. The organization promised the project would not only serve as a critical habitat for endangered species, but would also protect the town from flooding.

Plus one for floodplain restoration advocates. 

Experts hope we’ll see more projects like this throughout the state. They might be critical in the event of an ARkStorm, which could dump twice the amount of rain on California in the future. 

There are barriers. Much of the land where restoration is needed is privately-owned. Development stands in the way of many potential projects.

And then there’s the funding. Floodplain restoration isn’t cheap. Yet Governor Gavin Newsom's 2023-24 budget plan slashed flood protection efforts, including $40 million in floodplain restoration projects in the San Joaquin Valley. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who co-authored a report about ARkStorms last year, said he was “baffled” by the move. 

If the budget outlook improves, some of that funding could be restored. As we head into budget negotiations, restoration advocates hope the Governor and lawmakers will remember Grayson’s good fortune during the winter storms.