Napa River Watershed Flood Protection and Enhancement Project

Created: 8/19/2015 - Updated: 3/02/2020


Seasonal flooding along the Napa River is a regular occurrence, and records indicate there have been at least 22 serious floods on the river since 1865. In 1998, Napa County voters passed a measure for the Napa River Flood Protection Project (NRFPP), which works to achieve 100-year flood protection while supporting living river principles (e.g., reconnecting the river to its historic floodplain, retain natural channel features). ESA PWA, an environmental engineering consulting firm, provided conceptual designs and recommendations for flood reduction and habitat enhancement for the NRFPP, which are being implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


The Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District mission is “the conservation and management of flood and storm waters to protect life and property; the maintenance of the County watershed using the highest level of environmentally sound practices; and to provide coordinated planning for water supply needs for the community.” To further these goals, the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District sponsored a project to restore wetland habitats and protect properties against flooding.

Since 1991, ESA PWA has worked with several partners in the development of the NRFPP. Collaborators on the project include the Sacramento District Corps of Engineers, Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Napa County Resource Conservation District, and the California Coastal Conservancy. The NRFPP is working toward a “Living River Strategy” that has several goals including 100-year flood protection for the City of Napa and restoration of historic tidal marshes and alluvial floodplains. 


As part of the Living River Strategy for the NRFPP, ESA PWA has provided technical assistance and development including the design of a multi-stage channel and a raised-bed bypass, modeling of sediment transport processes, creation of Flood Inundation Maps (FIMs) for existing and project conditions, and preparation of a conceptual restoration plan for over 1,000 acres in the Upper Napa River Estuary.

ESA PWA developed a channel design for the Napa River from just upstream of the city to approximately 11 km downstream. Because the project reach extended into the tidally-influenced zone, the design had to consider both tidal and fluvial channel forming processes. The design included a multi-stage channel, which provides 100-year flood protection for the city while simultaneously restoring historic tidal marsh plains and alluvial floodplains, and a raised-bed bypass channel through the more developed area of the city, which allows the bypass to flood during high flows and maintains an oxbow meander during low flows. ESA PWA also created a complex sediment transport model of the river in order to assess the performance of their multi-channel and bypass design and to identify any areas of excessive erosion or deposition. In addition, FIMs were created to demonstrate the differences in flooding extent and depth for existing and post project conditions.

Finally, ESA PWA prepared a conceptual enhancement plan for restoration of over 1000 acres of tidal wetlands, freshwater wetlands, alluvial floodplains, and upland areas. ESA PWA developed GIS maps of the restoration areas, provided recommendations for enhancements (e.g., channel breach locations), and projected future conditions.

Outcomes and Conclusions

For the NRFPP, ESA PWA provided conceptual designs and recommendations for flood reduction and habitat restoration using a multi-stage channel and bypass as well as floodplain and marshplain terraces and wetland areas on the Napa River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is implementing all of the designs and recommendations put forth by ESA PWA and partners. This project provides a critical natural buffer against future climate change impacts such as flooding from extreme weather events and sea level rise. To date, progress achieved includes:

  • Restoration of over 1,000 acres of wetland and riparian habitats and floodplain (e.g., 289 acres of brackish marsh, 112 acres of seasonal wetland, 324 acres of mudflats, and 28 acres of tidal channel) providing both flood control benefits and increased riparian habitat diversity;
  • Construction of 1,700 feet of floodwalls along the river channel through the City of Napa to protect against 100-year flood events;
  • Elevation and reconstruction of road bridges and railroad bridges to allow for the passage of 100-year floodwaters; and
  • Creation of the 0.5-acre Veteran’s Memorial Park along the river, designed to flood during extreme rain events.

Flooding in the county has resulted in approximately US$25 million in property damage each year; the NRFPP is expected to cost around US$550 million. By investing in this project, Napa County will achieve 100-year flood protection and habitat enhancement. Project completion is expected in 2015/2016.


Last updated August 2015


Kershner, J. & Gregg, R.M. (2015). Napa River Watershed Flood Protection and Enhancement Project [Case study on a project by ESA PWA and partners]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated August 2015)

Project Contact(s)

ESA PWA is a leader in innovative approaches to complex water resources problems for clients throughout the Western U.S. and abroad. Our work integrates rigorous science with practical engineering solutions to address a range of problems affecting environments from the headwaters to the coast. Many of our projects have been successfully constructed restoring life and healthy function to degraded streams, rivers, wetlands, tidal inlets and beaches to create ecologic, economic, flood protection and recreational benefits for the environment and society as a whole.

The California Coastal Conservancy, established in 1976, is a state agency that uses entrepreneurial techniques to purchase, protect, restore, and enhance coastal resources, and to provide access to the shore. We work in partnership with local governments, other public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private landowners.

To date, the Conservancy has undertaken more than 1,800 projects along the 1,100 mile California coastline and around San Francisco Bay. These projects often accomplish more than one Conservancy goal. Through such projects, the Conservancy:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approximately 34,000 dedicated Civilians and Soldiers delivering engineering services to customers in more than 90 countries worldwide.


Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Flow patterns
Infrastructure damage
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Infrastructure retrofitting and improvements
Managed retreat of built infrastructure, relocation of people/communities
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage
In progress