Napa River Rutherford Reach Restoration Project

Rutherford Reach

The Napa River Rutherford Reach Restoration Project is comprised of a 4.5-mile reach of the mainstem Napa River south of the City of Saint Helena between Zinfandel Lane and the Oakville Cross Road. This reach is comprised of approximately 40 parcels owned and managed by 29 different private entities. Historic changes in land use and management in the Napa River watershed have resulted in confinement of the river into a narrow channel, loss of riparian and wetland habitats, accelerated channel incision and bank erosion, and ongoing channel degradation. Properties along the Rutherford Reach have been subject to bank instability and failure leading to the loss of valuable vineyard land and costly repairs.

The Napa River Rutherford Reach Restoration is a landowner-initiated project that aims to reduce existing bank erosion and enhance riparian and aquatic habitats using a suite of approaches, including: setting back earthen berms from the top of the river bank; creating vegetated buffers between the river and adjacent land uses; excavating and planting inset floodplain benches (1.5- to 2-year flood recurrence interval); creating backwater habitat to provide high-flow refugia for native fish; removing non-native invasive and Pierce's disease host species (e.g., Himalayan blackberry, periwinkle, giant reed, tree-of-heaven); planting native understory species; installing biotechnical bank stabilization to stabilize actively eroding banks; and, installing instream structures to improve aquatic habitat. The project also includes an annual maintenance program to proactively address debris, bank erosion, and inputs of fine sediments and to maintain the functions of the restoration features. Proposed maintenance activities include: debris removal; downed tree stabilization/relocation; in-channel vegetation management; planting native vegetation; invasive and Pierces's Disease host plant removal; and, repairing (as needed) instream habitat structures and other constructed instream restoration features. All of this work is proposed for private lands along the study reach under the supervision of the District in concert with landowners and their representatives.

The Napa River is presently subject to a Clean Water Act Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) action due to excessive quantities of fine sediment degrading local water quality and beneficial uses. While sediment is a naturally-occurring input to the Napa River system, excessive amounts are considered a pollutant, and thus sediment load reductions mentioned in this report amount to 'pollutant reductions' in TMDL terms. The Rutherford Reach Restoration Project serves to support the TMDL objective of reducing fine sediment loads and as a result has been designated a regional priority by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board responsible for TMDL development and implementation. 

Multiple agencies have been involved in project development and funding. The project is a terrific example of collaboration and leveraging available private-public funding.

Project Objectives:

  1. Reduce bank erosion, loss of vineyard land, and flood damages by restoring stability to the Napa River,
  2. Reduce sediment loading into the river downstream and into San Pablo Bay (a Regional Water Quality Control Board TMDL objective),
  3. Restore habitat for salmonids and other aquatic species including existing runs of steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, by creating more riffles, reducing sediment burial of spawning gravels, and increasing cover and shade,
  4. Restore a continuous corridor of riparian habitat for birds and wildlife,
  5. Replace invasive plants with native species and reduce risk of Pierce's disease, and
  6. Engage landowners in the process and maintain regulatory compliance.

Project Documents:

The majority of the project documents may be accessed using the library links on left side of this page or here.

Project Photos:

Here is the link to the Rutherford Dust Society webpage where a lot of project related photos can be viewed.

Project Videos:

The following videos of the Napa River Rutherford Reach Restoration Project illustrate the function of recently created floodplain benches and instream habitat features in a high flow event. The instream benches were created by setting back land uses and existing berms, and grading a gentle slope that is replanted with native riparian vegetation. The benches are functioning as designed to slow water velocities and create high flow refugia for rearing salmonids such as steelhead trout and Chinook salmon. Fine sediments, which previously would settle out into spawning gravels as the flood flows receded and suffocate fish eggs, are now depositing out as dunes on the created floodplain benches. Widening of the channel slows flows sufficiently to cause the deposition of gravel, thus increasing spawning habitat in the mainstem for Chinook salmon. This design approach demonstrates that complex instream habitat, beneficial for aquatic species, can be restored in an incised of the stream channel. 

Reach 2 (12/2010)

Reach 3 (12/2010 a)

Reach 3 (12/2010 b)

Reach 3 Bench 1 (12/2010 c)

Reach 4 West Bench 10 (12/2012)

Reach 8 Sequoia Grove (12/2012)

Reach 8 East Secondary Channel Inlet (12/2012)

Zinfandel Lane Bridge Fish Passage Impovement Proj (12/2012)

Additional information, videos and pictures are available on the Rutherford Dust Society's Restoration Team project webpage.

The project also maintains a Facebook page (Facebook login to required).

Project Contact:

Jeremy Sarrow
Napa County Flood Control & Water Conservation District
PH: 707-259-8204 | Email: