On a sunny day in Portland last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water District received first place for its flood awareness campaign in the 2016 National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA) Excellence in Communication Awards.
For the second time since 2012, the water district received this prestigious recognition during the annual NAFSMA conference on Aug. 25.
In the midst of a historical drought, the water district was challenged with coordinating a credible flood awareness campaign. For the past two years, we had urged residents to let lawns go brown and called for water reductions. After minimal rainfall for three years, now we had to urge residents to be ready for possible floods. A looming El Niño was on the way, and we needed to remind residents to be prepared. After all, any time it can rain, it can flood.
And so last October, water district staff began gearing up for a flood awareness outreach campaign to help keep residents safe from the awaited “Godzilla” El Niño. “Charles Chicken Little,” our family-friendly flood spokesperson, appeared on advertisements, giving flood safety tips while featuring images of past flooding events in our county during previous El Niño winters.
From October through February, staff actively participated in emergency preparedness fairs and community events and flood protection presentations across the county. For the first time since the last El Niño even in 1998, we hosted three free, hands-on sandbag demonstration workshops in flood-prone areas to teach residents the proper placement of sandbags for optimum protection.
While the recognition came toward the end of summer, the truth is the water district works year round to reduce flood risks and to inform residents about the dangers of flooding.
The Stream Maintenance Program begins in June, and improves and repairs conditions on our local waterways so they can safely carry floodwaters during storms. By November, sandbags will be available at six water district operated distribution centers across the county, as well as other city managed locations. In November, our media campaign featuring Charles Chicken Little kicks in. Through the winter, we are actively engaging with the community at emergency preparedness and community fairs, speaking presentations, and on social media platforms to convey flood safety information. And of course, year round staff works on long-term flood protection projects to protect thousands of homes and businesses in the county.
Our flood protection projects, outreach and education not only help keep you safe, but they also help save you money. The water district participates in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS), designed to reduce flood insurance premiums for residents in participating cities in the county. Flood protection projects, key outreach and educational activities are awarded CRS points which count toward discounted insurance rates for residents living in FEMA designated flood zones. In the last year, the water district has saved residents over $2 million in flood insurance premium discounts.
As the flood protection authority for the county, flood safety is among our top priorities, and extends far longer than just the rainy months.