In 2002, the Rutherford Dust Society Board of Directors voted unanimously to empower a subcommittee, the Rutherford Dust (Napa River) Restoration Team (RDRT or “our dirt”), to initiate a plan to manage and restore the river. This committee is chaired by Rutherford Dust Society board member Davie Piña, owner of Piña Vineyard Management, LLC, and includes over 25 riverside property owners. Since that date, RDRT has successfully pioneered an innovative partnership with Napa County to realize this vision. Building upon over 5 years of detailed engineering and ecological studies, a comprehensive design for the entire 4.5 mile reach was released in October of 2008 for environmental and regulatory review. Project construction commenced in July 2009, starting at the upstream boundary of the project area at the Zinfandel Lane Bridge. By 2012, under the guidance of Landowner Liaison Gretchen Hayes, three Phases of the Project will have been implemented, completing the Project downstream to the Rutherford Cross Road. Restoration of the remaining reaches between the Rutherford and Oakville Cross Roads is scheduled to be complete by 2017.
For California’s agricultural sector and beyond, this project provides a community-based leadership model for watershed restoration. It is arguably one of the most ambitious initiatives of its kind, and one of the few comprehensive reach-scale restoration projects in the region to move beyond just planning into on-the-ground implementation. It provides yet another example of how Napa Valley leads the way in striking a harmonious balance between economy and ecology to maintain the quality of its natural heritage. In this case, the Rutherford community is demonstrating how private initiatives can work to both enhance the quality of vineyard lands and help recover threatened aquatic species like native trout and salmon, species critical to the health and biodiversity of the San Francisco Bay estuary.
Previous Project Director Dr. Lisa Micheli, who has worked in the field of river and watershed restoration for over 20 years, explains that “working with Rutherford growers and vintners on this project has been a terrific experience. They understand the need to give and take when working with natural systems. Over 18 acres of productive vineyard has been generously rededicated to the river corridor to enhance its ecological health. This is a gift of a living river for future generations.”
“To repair the main stem of the Napa River, to restore habitat, we need owner commitment, a holistic approach and supportive government agencies,” said John Williams, president of Frog’s Leap Winery and original RDRT co-chair. “So far, we have all three.”
RDRT is a constructive response to working in a highly regulated river environment. Historically, vineyard owners were often discouraged from pursuing their own restoration programs by the high cost and time required to coordinate with the multiple government agencies that oversee such programs. RDRT aggregates all these projects under one umbrella, which allows the group to coordinate investments and workplans more efficiently than any individual land owner could acting independently. By handling coordination with over eight regulatory agencies charged with overseeing activities within the RDRT river zone, we provide members a level of unprecedented confidence in our ability to maintain the river over the long term in full regulatory compliance.
After 13 years and $21 million, restoration of 4.5 miles of Napa River banks in the heart of Napa Valley is complete, offering improved habitat and reducing flood damage.
Federal, state and local leaders celebrated the accomplishment Thursday as they prepared to launch phase 2: 9 miles of bank restoration from Oakville to Oak Knoll costing another $21 million.
Almost 100 people turned out for the by-invitation morning event along the rivers bank at the Opus One Winery in Oakville, including Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St Helena.
“This river is part of what makes Napa County the iconic landscape that it is,” said Samuel Schuchat, executive officer of the California Coastal Conservancy. “I strongly believe this is the future of river restoration in California.” Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, praised how local people are putting aside their own agendas to restore the river. The restoration’s effects go beyond the county, he said. “We live in the Bay Area,” Blumenfeld said. “But the bay doesn’t exist by itself. All the rivers and streams that flow into it are the lifeblood of the bay.”
To read more and follow the project go to the Napa River Restoration Project’s Facebook Page