Summer stream maintenance prepares waterways to receive winter rains

After a slow start to the winter, we’re finally welcoming some light rainstorms in the new year. And just as relieved as we are to see the rains, we’re also feeling much better about the shape of our creeks to receive them. That’s because for the past 7 months, during the annual Stream Maintenance Program, Santa Clara Valley Water District field crews have been out maintaining creeks so they can flow safely for continued flood protection. During this time we work hard to enhance, protect and restore our streams to keep them healthy, reduce the risk of flooding and keep our communities safe.

For decades, our crews have been trekking into streams to remove sediment build-up, manage vegetation, clear trash and debris, and stabilize banks that have eroded during high flows. The Stream Maintenance Program ensures streams with completed flood protection projects continue to function as designed to protect homes and businesses. The water district owns and manages about 275 miles of streams out of over 800 miles in our county. Yet only a portion of them have been improved with flood protection projects. Those portions are prioritized for maintenance projects.

While most of the work takes place from June to October, this year we were able to work until December, after applying for an extension of permits that allowed us to stay in creeks as long as weather permitted. The season’s drier conditions allowed us to make considerable progress in preparing our county’s waterways to flow safely during storms. The major elements of the annual stream maintenance program include sediment removal, bank repair, vegetation management and minor maintenance.

Sediment removal:

During heavy storms, sediment and debris washed down from areas upstream can restrict the flow of water in some areas, causing a back-up that increases the risk of flooding. This year the water district removed 35,175 cubic yards of sediment, the equivalent of about 4,400 dump trucks.

Bank protection:

Heavy flows can cause extensive damage to creek banks, eroding existing flood protection improvements and natural elements. Weakened banks can cause sediment build-up and blockages in creeks from collapsed trees and vegetation. Securing creek banks restores the stream’s ability to carry flows and helps protect neighboring homes and property from flooding.

Vegetation management:

Managing vegetation is key to keeping creeks healthy. Removing invasive vegetation, weeds and dry brush improves habitat for wildlife and maintains a healthy ecosystem, contributes to restored flows in creeks, and even reduces the risk of fire hazards along neighboring properties. This season, water district crews removed a total of 672 acres of vegetation in the creeks, and over 2,500 acres of vegetation uplands to improve habitat and reduce potential fire hazards.

Minor maintenance projects: 

Aside from the larger stream maintenance projects, water district crews inspect and monitor the district’s stream facilities to ensure trash racks and capture devices are functioning; and access roads, fences and district gates are in good condition. Keeping these facilities in good condition helps our crews efficiently access creeks and remove potential blockages. Trash racks and capture devices are cage-like structures that collect trash and debris flowing through streams.

This stream maintenance season, the water district was able to complete 107 vegetation management projects, 10 bank repairs and 14 sediment removal projects across streams in Santa Clara County. And while official stream maintenance season may be over, flood protection is a full-time gig. Crews continue inspecting creeks and removing obstructions such as fallen trees, trash and debris, especially before, during and after any winter storms.

If you notice something blocking a stream during a storm, call our watersheds hotline at (408) 630-2378. You can also report any problems with creeks in our service area to our “Access Valley Water” online customer request and information system. We will assist you or direct you to the appropriate agency having jurisdiction.








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