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July 2007


Last month Family Water Alliance facilitated a tour of The Dutra Museum of Dredging, to get a first hand account of the history of flood control. Included in the museum is a private collection of materials representing the history of dredging the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The collection included pictures, logbooks, The Tom Ellis Family, Sam Wakim, Ashley Emery, FWA Executive Director, and Bob Steidlmayer outside the Dutra Museum of Dredging in Rio Vista, California.ledgers, dredge models and a vast history of flood control.

It is important that we understand how our flood control system was constructed and what was done to maintain it, in order to protect our communities from catastrophic flooding. The river was routinely dredged to deepen the water channel and remove silt and sediment that had formed on the bottom of the river.  This allows the river to carry more of the peak water flows that occur during high water events and lessens the pressure on the levees. The more carrying capacity the river has the less likely the river is to overrun its banks and flood local communities.

The Dutra family still operates three dredges in the San Rafael area and uses them to construct and repair levees, deepen water channels, harbors and marinas and underwater trenching for pipelines. Dredging is mostly done on and emergency basis and was used during recent emergency levee repairs along on the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

Furthermore, dredging is usually thwarted as a form of flood control maintenance by state and federal agencies. The mindset that the river needs to be able to meander and that we need to “restore the natural river process” takes precedence over public safety. How our flood control system was historically maintained by those that built the system takes a backset to wildlife habitat and the need to restore the riparian forest along the banks of the river. These two agendas, which have become common place the past thirty years, have added to the degradation of our flood control system. Only recently has our state decided to invest in the flood control and start to evaluate the flood control system. This change in attitude came after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Our bypasses, weirs, and river channel are full of silt, sediment, debris and vegetation which weaken the integrity of the system. FWA has been working with state, federal and local agencies to bring this issue to the forefront.

Currently work is underway to clean out the Tisdale Weir which is located just south of Grimes. It took the efforts of not only FWA but our state legislators, local government officials and many other concerned groups and individuals to move this project forward. FWA will continue to work diligently to protect the families, business and communities from catastrophic flooding.

For more information on the Dutra Museum of Dredging please contact Family Water Alliance at (530) 438-2026. ■

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