Sonoma Resource Conservation District

Levee Maintenance Program

During the late 1800s the tidelands bordering San Pablo Bay were "reclaimed" for farm land. Levees were constructed to keep out the bay waters and the lands were drained and allowed to dry out, rain water flushed out the salts from the land and crops were planted. Currently, these lands are either private or publically owned and support local agricultural operations, infrastructure (i.e. roads) and important habitat and the levees require ongoing maintenance to prevent these lands from flooding.

In order to maintain the levees, landowners are required to obtain permits from some, or all, of the following regulatory agencies: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (with consultation from the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife), County, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the State Lands Commission. Often, obtaining permits can be a lengthy and costly process. For example, receiving an individual permit for levee maintenance could take approximately 2 years to complete and can cost the landowner thousands of dollars. One way to save the landowner time and money, and to streamline the time spent by the regulatory agencies reviewing the permit applications, is for the RCD to administer one permit issued by each regulatory agency for levee maintenance activities being completed by numerous landowners. The effort of creating a permit program for maintaining the levees required the cooperation of many agencies, landowners, politicians and the RCD. The first permits were issued in 1980 and the RCD applies for a renewal of permits every five years. Mitigation for this permit program was required by the regulatory agencies and included the construction of approximately 71 acres of wetlands in Southern Sonoma County. As of 2013, there are twenty-nine participating landowners from the Petaluma River and Sonoma Creek Watersheds.

Each year, the RCD gathers information from each landowner on the work done in the previous year and work to be done the coming year, and submits it to the permitting agencies. The permits include restrictions as to when and how much levee maintenance work can be completed. It also ensures that the environment and endangered species are protected. Under these permits, landowners are not allowed to construct new levees or expand an existing levee.

With the assistance of the RCD, the landowners and regulators have reached an agreement to make maintaining levees an easier process for all parties. For further questions with regards to the levee permit, please contact Project Manager, Kari Wester at 707.569.1448 ext 101 kwester@sonomarcd.org.