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Conservation group president praises floodplain investment

Julie Rentner, president of River Partners, with State Assemblyman Adam Gray.
Julie Rentner, president of River Partners, with State Assemblyman Adam Gray.

At a gathering on the banks of the Tuolumne River in what is projected to become California’s newest state park, Assemblymember Adam Gray was honored by the organization that made the park’s creation possible.

“When Adam learned about this project, he called me up one day and said, ‘We need to do more; how much do you need?’” said Julie Rentner, President of River Partners, which hosted a luncheon for 300 state, regional and local dignitaries on Friday, Oct. 14.

While funding for the park will come from other parts of the budget, Gray secured $40 million to help fund River Partners’ programs to restore floodplains across the entire San Joaquin Valley.

Recognizing floodplains as the most important element for restoring salmon and steelhead trout populations in Valley rivers, Dos Rios Preserve was created from two adjacent farms that had frequently flooded. River Partners invested millions in planting native trees, bushes and grasses while modifying berms to allow floodwater to flow freely across the area. Benefits are enormous, including for wildlife but also for diminishing flood flows across the region while refilling underground aquifers shared by communities and farms.

“The result of Adam’s incredible leadership is that we’re going to be able to launch new projects — maybe five or even ten — across the valley,” said Rentner. “That is so incredible. The Valley is fortunate to have a leader who unites all sides to get the important work done.”

The keynote came from California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot, a frequent visitor to the location and intense advocate for creation of California’s first new state park in more than a decade.

“My heart is full,” Crowfoot said. “It’s a remarkable moment in time on this wonderful piece of land… “Thanks to our state leaders – Assemblymember Gray first among them – we have more resources than we’ve ever had before.”

Crowfoot said the new park will put “recreation on the doorstep” of some of California’s most vulnerable residents and applauded an expected emphasis on Native American culture.

Following his speech, Crowfoot embraced Gray in a bearhug, calling out “You got it done!”

In his remarks, Gray applauded the scope and vision of River Partners, which has completed more than 250 restorations statewide, planting hundreds of thousands of native trees on 18,000 acres. None of that would have been possible, he said, without an emphasis on creating partnerships.

“By linking arms with farmers and farmworkers, engineers and volunteers, people driving tractors and people driving change, River Partners has created something special,” said Gray. He noted that River Partners – founded by two farmers — works within communities on shared priorities instead of taking a more antagonistic approach often adopted by other environmental groups.

“It works,” he said, “because it helps us work together.”

Among others presented with awards was Stanislaus County farmer and developer Bill Lyons, who most recently served as a special liaison from the Valley to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Lyons sold the largest Dos Rios parcel to River Partners more than 20 years ago.

River Partners unveiled the Mary Lyons Memorial Panel, which will be displayed at the park. Mary Lyons, Bill’s mother, passed away earlier this year.

“I want to point out somebody who has really taken up the torch,” said Lyons, “and that’s Adam Gray. Adam brought together enough people collectively and privately to put $40 million into keeping up this work.”

After a decade in the Assembly during which he has been the Valley’s leading advocate on water issues, education and healthcare, Gray is running to represent the region in the newly drawn 13th California Congressional District.

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