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Petaluma flood control efforts receive funding

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Officials have secured a $1.89 million state grant to help further Petaluma’s longstanding efforts to control flood waters across the city, the Sonoma County Water Agency announced last week.

The grant, awarded by the state’s Department of Water Resources, will be used to provide flood protection, remove sediment from the river, facilitate the creation of wetland habitat and preserve open space in Denman Reach area north of Corona Road.

The money will be used as part of a larger $3.8 million project to remove roughly 8,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Petaluma River near the Corona Road bridge, which will restore water flow capacity in the area, officials said. As part of the project, a 5.47-acre vacant flood-prone parcel along Industrial Road will also be purchased and used to provide additional flood water storage.

“The overall benefit is that we’re going to be reducing flooding both locally and downstream, and we’re going to be improving the riparian habitat and native plants along that stretch of the river,” Sonoma County Water Agency Programs Specialist Barry Dugan said.

The work, which is expected to wrap up by 2020, will enhance already-completed projects in the area to add capacity by reshaping channels and create bike and pedestrian paths. Those improvements have been undertaken in steps, with the city council signing off on a $3.1 million third and final phase in March.

“This is a continuation of the Denman Reach project that’s been going on for nearly a decade,” said Dan St. John, the city’s public works and utilities director.

The state grant funding was initially planned for use in a storm water management project in the town of Sonoma, though plans were scrapped last year after meeting opposition from neighbors and a local veterans group, Dugan said. He said his agency has long partnered with Petaluma to complete flood control projects, and recognized the grant was applicable to help accomplish more work in the city.

“We need to recognize how this was an opportunity that our supervisor (David Rabbitt) recognized in his role working with the water agency and sitting on the water agency board,” St. John said. “He saw an opportunity where an existing project grant elsewhere in the county had become unfeasible and … saw the opportunity to transfer those to another qualifying project in the county.”

Rabbitt, whose district includes Petaluma, said the project is key to protecting the city’s residents.

“We continue to improve on the efforts to reduce the threat to lives and property from flooding,” he said in statement. “This project includes not only flood protection, but incorporates environmental benefits into our vision of better managing floodwaters.”

The news of the grant award comes amid other ongoing mitigation work in the city, including a $1.14 million project to increase capacity and improve surrounding habitats at Capri Creek, near North McDowell and Sunrise Parkway. The project, as well as the third phase of Denman Reach, were funded largely through outside grants.

The city is also upgrading its flood warning gauge and communication system.

The city council recently approved a plan for its creeks that’s expected to help streamline maintenance efforts and permitting, and staff are also examining the impacts of silt on flooding while crunching the numbers for costs associated with dredging, St. John said.

The series of projects follow the completion of a more than $40 million federally-funded flood wall spanning north from Lakeville Street, an effort that helped safeguard hundreds of homes and businesses in the Payran neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Water Agency is also embarking on the second phase of a project intended to quell flooding and recharge groundwater supplies in the upper Petaluma river area, work that St. John said will benefit Petaluma residents.

“Flood waters do not recognize jurisdictional boundaries,” he said. “We know that flooding of the Petaluma River is influenced by floodwaters that come from the city upstream, so any work that can be done to help control those peak flows will benefit the city.”

In the past, floods have wreaked havoc on the city, resulting in millions of dollars of damage, including during a 1982 event where the river jumped its banks and seeped into the Payran neighborhood. A 2005 flood on New Year’s Eve also caused $56 million in damages, according to a city report.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)