California storms are testing the state’s method to climate management

Beth Salyers, the deputy district engineer for the Corps’ Sacramento District, which includes much of the central and northern portions of the state, said her agency was increasingly committed to what she called “engineering with nature.”

“With our flood projects, ecosystem restoration is something that we are starting to see integrated,” Ms Salyers said. “Over time we learn and we grow.”

It is not clear how much of the Corps’ stated support has been implemented in flood management projects.

Efforts to withdraw dams from rivers face major challenges. To complete the levee project in West Sacramento, the city had to move about a dozen homes near the river, said Paul Dirksen, the city’s flood control planner. The negotiations with the property owners were sometimes tough.

Mr Dirksen remembers one case particularly well. “It was a big house,” he said. “And this person thought they were going to live there for the rest of their lives. So they had a lot of emotions with it.”

Local officials in California may be reluctant to take farmland near rivers out of production, said Julie Rentner, president of River Partners, an environmental group that works on floodplain restoration projects in the state. “Land that produces a product like milk, almonds or walnuts pays higher property taxes than land that provides wildlife habitat and flood control,” she said.

River Partners played a key role in the creation of the Dos Rios Ranch Preserve, a 2,100-acre floodplain extension near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne Rivers. The area was once a dairy and livestock farm but is now a green habitat for birds and fish. When the rivers burst their banks, the water can safely inundate the property and reduce the risk of flooding downstream.

However, the project took years to complete and involved a lot of delicate work to cobble together government funding, Ms Rentner said. It was in 2006 that River Partners began buying Dos Rios Ranch from the family that owned it, she said. The deal was finalized in 2012.

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