Situated at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers in California's Central Valley, the untamed floodplain of Dos Rios used to be a workhorse parcel just like the land around it. Around a decade ago, a conservation nonprofit bought the 2,100-acre tract from the farmer that owned it, ripped up the fields, and restored the ancient vegetation that once existed there.
The goal was not just to restore a natural habitat, but also to pilot a solution to the massive water management crisis that has bedeviled California and the West for decades. Like many other parts of the West, the Central Valley always seems to have either too little water or too much, and the restored floodplain has solved both problems at once. During wet years, it absorbs excess water from the San Joaquin River, slowing down the waterway before it can rush downstream toward large cities like Stockton. As the water moves through the site, it seeps into the ground, recharging groundwater aquifers.
Jane Dolan, the chair of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, a state agency that regulates flood control in the region