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  September 2018                                                                                                                            Issue #2

Mission Critical: San Rafael Canal

The sparkling, boat-lined San Rafael Canal (AKA the San Rafael Channel) is not merely a pretty waterscape feature of our beloved city, but also a vital part of the economy and a critical element in water drainage and safety for our homes and businesses.

  • The San Rafael Channel is a major drainage outlet for the entirety of the San Rafael Creek Watershed, which includes all of downtown San Rafael and bordering areas; including 30% of the city’s residents (20,000 people) that live in the low-lying 100-year FEMA San Rafael Valley Flood Zone surrounding the Channel and extending south and west of the freeways to D Street.
  • The San Rafael Channel is a source of significant commercial, industrial and recreational activity.
  • City Police and Fire operate three rescue vessels on the Channel, responding to thousands of distress calls and emergencies.
  • Within 400 ft of the Channel, 134 total businesses grossed $191,827,000 in taxable sales in 2017.
  • Within the entire San Rafael Valley FEMA 100-year Flood Zone, 799 total businesses grossed $1,133,951,200 in taxable sales in 2017. (Source: HDL Companies)

Since 1930, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has funded the dredging and ongoing maintenance of the Channel on 13 separate occasions. Maintenance dredging should be conducted every three years. However, no dredging of the inner channel has happened since 2002. Only a partial dredge of the Outer Channel was performed in 2011.

Why Is Dredging Important?

Flood Risk: There are 28 total Repetitive Loss Properties within the San Rafael Valley FEMA flood zone. Two Presidentially-Declared Disasters in winter caused multiple mudslides, siltation, and hillside material to deposit sediment into the San Rafael Canal, further undermining the navigability of the Channel. These major sediment deposits have threatened flood protection for the City and emergency search and rescue activities for the area.

Fire Hazards: Five harbors moor nearly 2,000 boats (including 135 live-aboard owners). Tens of thousands of residents live within a half mile of the channel, many situated directly on the waterfront. Limited access to the large apartment buildings and developments that back up to the waterfront has contributed to serious building and boat fires. Because of the land-side inaccessibility, fires have spread quickly, and fighting the fires is more difficult.This is why water-side access is so important.

Search & Rescue: The Coast Guard cannot respond to local water incidents with a navigational depth less than 7 ft. Therefore, San Rafael Fire and Police Department boats perform critical emergency and search and rescue missions on the channel. Water-related calls are increasing in frequency with the shallow channel depths, and are extremely resource intensive, requiring 20% or more of on-duty responders.

Shallow Canal, Scarce Funding

Inner Channel current depth is 2.5-4.5 ft. Federal minimum is 6 ft
Outer Channel current depth is 4.8-6.5 ft. Federal minimum is 8 ft

Obviously, dredging is urgently needed. However, the cost to analyze and dredge is high. Environmental analysis (Tier 3 Testing) would cost a million dollars, and proper dredging operations would be eleven million dollars.

Who’s Helping?

In response to this need, the San Rafael Channel Association has been formed to help focus and coordinate the efforts of all affected parties to pursue immediate, as well as, longer-term solutions for dredging this federal channel. Its goals include:

  1. Promoting and supporting the dredging, repair, maintenance and improvement of the San Rafael Channel as navigable waters for the benefit of the San Rafael community and the general public, and
  2. Developing and advocating for legislation, regulations, and government programs to improve the San Rafael Channel, conserve our natural resources and stimulate the economy
  3. Developing long-term, locally funded solutions for dredging and maintenance of the Channel

SRCA’s membership includes harbors/marinas, commercial businesses, the City of San Rafael (including police and fire assets), and homeowners’ associations.  Each of these groups is comprised of many individual members.

How You Can Help

Even if you aren’t part of an HOA or a marina, you can get involved in these efforts to preserve the Canal. The greater San Rafael community can help advance dredging efforts by contacting Congressman Huffman and writing letters of support:

Congressman Huffman
c/o Jenny Callaway
999 Fifth Ave., Suite 290
San Rafael, CA 94901

Additionally, you can donate to the San Rafael Channel Association:

San Rafael Channel Association
c/o Nadine Urciuoli
619 Canal Street
San Rafael, CA 94901

San Rafael Flood Fair Interviews. Credits: Laurel Dell School, Pepe Gonzalez, Y-Plan, Youth-in-Arts.

Letter from the Director

Two years ago, I announced the Resilient by Design Challenge, or “RbD,” as it’s known to our City Council. This was an opportunity to have San Rafael selected as one of ten sites around the Bay Area for study and development of ideas to address flooding, sea level rise and seismic risk.

The goals: Attract external resources and expertise. Bring our community together. Conduct research and develop design ideas to address existential threats to the heart of our city.

A remarkable collaborative effort ensued. City staff, the Resilient Shore team, Sustainable San Rafael, Shore Up Marin, and our elected officials welcomed the design teams to town.

Together we hosted a research phase tour for 90 people. We demonstrated committed local support. We brought attention to our risks. And with our remarkable setting, we made a strong case for San Rafael as an RbD site.

Three out of the ten teams developed design concepts for our city in the research phase. Amazing! San Rafael made the cut and the Bionic Team was assigned to our site.

We’re so proud of what we started with the community:

  • A wide range of local stakeholders, including our immigrant community, participated.
  • Over 500 people attended the flood fair, bike, walking and kayak tours, and community meetings.
  • People are more aware of the challenges we face and are beginning to consider how we can move forward.
  • We have robust support from many technical experts and resource agencies.
  • Approximately $300,000 in RbD resources were expended for San Rafael.
  • Hundreds of volunteer hours were contributed.
  • The Bionic Team’s San Rafael project was singled out for recognition of excellent community participation.

In our next newsletters, I will share observations about local responses to RbD Bionic Team’s Elevate San Rafael project and how we can leverage their efforts.

Our work is not done. We are only at the beginning of what can be an incredible transformation. Please help us make our shore better and more resilient by making tax-deductible contributions to Resilient Shore through MarinLINK, our fiscal sponsor Let’s make our shore world class. Together we can to this!

Jeff Rhoads
Executive Director
Resilient Shore


in her own words:

“I made the decision to get involved in supporting Resilient Shore because of Jeff Rhoads. My husband and I always supported him on his different projects. So, when this project came along I knew what I had to do: I wanted to support him before I even looked at the content. But once I checked it out, I was impressed.

“Now that I’ve learned all about Resilient Shore’s mission, I admire how the team is working diligently and relentlessly to get closer to the goal: getting a whole community out of harm’s way. It seemed a very ambitious plan. I realize it is an enormous project involving many different modalities. Resilient Shore is collaborating with the City of San Rafael and local groups and individual volunteers, and everybody works for the same goal.

“I marvel at the foresight, trying to be one step ahead of disaster, which will surely be brought on by the climate change. It’s impressive how so many organizations work together for the good of our community.

“The nice thing about Resilient Shore is the fact that it is right in our neighborhood, and I can follow the work and see the success. Come the end of the year, I will again have a very close look, and will enjoy helping Resilient Shore get closer to their goal.”


Getting to Paris Without Stopping in Washington: Sept.15
College of Marin, 700 College Ave. Kentfield

Panel discussion: How citizens and communities can come together to achieve global climate goals
With Christiana Figueres, Matt Rodriquez, and Daniel Kammen. Joined by Congressman Jared Huffman, Kate Sears, Damon Connolly, Josh Fryday, & Cameron Evans.

101 Surf Sports: Oct. 21
115 3rd St, San Rafael, CA

50% of all rental revenue to benefit the general campaign for the San Rafael Channel Association.

Iron Springs Public HouseOct. 22
901 4th St., San Rafael, CA

Give Back Monday. Between 4 PM – 10 PM,10% of profits will go to the San Rafael Channel Association.


We’re a non-profit project dedicated to working with local people and businesses, listening to their concerns, and together creating a resilient shore that protects our city from flooding and sea level rise, improves public access and enhances our environment.

Copyright © 2018 Resilient Shore, All rights reserved.
Resilient Shore is a non-profit project of MarinLink
Our mailing address is:
828 Mission Avenue, San Rafael CA 94901

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