ReConnecting with Big Rivers

A collaboration between Jackson State University and the University of California Berkeley

Oblique aerial view of levees flanking channel in the Sacramento Delta. Source: website of Congressman John Garamendi

Issue: Public Riverfront Access

Riverfronts are increasingly valued as public space, but along some large rivers, cities and towns are cut off from their rivers by levees and other flood control infrastructure.  For example, until the 1990s, one could visit New Orleans and never see the river because visual access was cut off by artificial levees built on top of the natural levees.  While New Orleans has since improved this situation in the touristic downtown area, the problem persists in most parts of the city, and it has long been the case upstream along the Mississippi River in the state of Mississippi.  With the exception of some recently developed access points in Vicksburg, Greenville, and Tunica, most of the Mississippi riverfront in Mississippi is without public access.  As river banks historically provided important open space and leisure opportunities for people of all walks of life, cutting them off represents a significant impact on recreational opportunities for many in society, notably disadvantaged residents.  Flood control structures have cut people off from what is arguably the most important landscape feature in their region. 

On Sherman Island, Sacramento Delta.  (Photo by Matt Kondolf, May 2022)

The Collaboration

In this project, two faculty and five students each from Jackson State University (JSU) and UC Berkeley (UCB) are collaboratively assessing sites along the Mississippi currently with public access, along with some of the riverfront without public access, to make recommendations for improving public access in light of current land use, flood control constraints, and evolving opportunities. The first of two exchanges occurred at the end of May 2022. This group, joined by other UC Berkeley students, visited leveed sites along the Sacramento River and Delta to see how public access has been achieved in some of these locations, but also to identify limitations in the existing access and other issues arising. Then, a workshop was held to synthesize student observations and ideas to improve river access. The student team presented these initial ideas on Saturday 21 May at 4pm in Rm 315A Bauer Wurster Hall. The second exchange will take place in Mississippi in mid-October. The student work will be posted on this webpage, and the team will draw upon these ideas for a proposal for future funding and for a manuscript submitted to a journal.

Sacramento Workshop

The Sacramento Workshop spanned two days. The first day, Friday May 20th, the students and faculty visited six sites along the Sacramento River and Delta, including Vic Fasio Yolo Bypass Wildlife area, riverfront parks in West Sacramento, and the Sacramento Weir where they were accompanied by Mike Mierzwa of the California Department of Water Resources, as well as Garcia Bend Park in the “Pocket”, the town of Locke, and Sherman Island where they were accompanied by Bryan Brock of the California Department of Water Resources. The second day, May 21st, the students participated in an all-day workshop on UC Berkeley campus, where they heard talks from local stakeholders, and then split into groups to discuss and propose options for improving river access. The groups each focused on a different type of connectivity: Longitudinal Connectivity, Lateral Connectivity, and Vertical Connectivity. You can see their final presentations below.

Longitudinal Connectivity PDF              Lateral Connectivity PDF              Vertical Connectivity PDF

The project is coordinated by Prof Berneece Herbert (JSU) and Prof Matt Kondolf (UCB).

Funded by the Beatrix Farrand Endowment, Riverlab, and Global Metropolitan Studies (UCB), and AAG Bridging the Digital Divide and MARTrec grants (JSU).

Co-sponsored by US Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District Flood Risk Management Program.

Big Rivers Committee at UC Berkeley:  Anna Brand, Danielle Rivera , Matt Kondolf.