As we approach the final weeks of winter, we are fortunate that the mild weather has not overwhelmed our watersheds, creeks and reservoirs as the historic downpour of last winter did.
Of course, with no prediction of what this winter had in store for us, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has worked diligently since the summer months to prepare our waterways for the rainy season.
I would like to share with you some important progress and updates in our efforts to reduce the risk of flooding and keep our communities safe.
South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project:
The South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project to protect our county’s shoreline from the risk of tidal flooding and enhance habitat for endangered species continues moving forward. A yearlong effort coordinating with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and Bay Conservation Development Commission culminated in a meeting in December 2017, when key executive project partners, including myself, spoke on the significance of the project and urged for the issuance of permits. The project has received the necessary permits to construct the segment of levee from the Alviso County Marina to the Union Pacific Railroad.
The shoreline spans 18 miles of coast in Santa Clara County. Providing coastal protection along the shoreline will safeguard homes, schools, businesses and two essential water facilities: the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center and the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility. The project is a partnership between the water district, California State Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and key stakeholders. As a whole, it aims to restore and enhance 15,100 acres of tidal wetlands that have suffered due to former salt production activities.
The first phase of the project with the Corps focuses on the north San José area and includes construction of 4 miles of levee to help protect more than 1,100 structures and State Route 237, a major Silicon Valley commuter route. When completed, the project will provide protection from a 100-year river and tidal flood event, or a flood that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, safeguarding vulnerable communities that have suffered from historic flooding, like Alviso. This phase will restore up to 2,900 acres of tidal habitat and enhance recreational opportunities by connecting a trail that will tie into the San Francisco Bay Trail, linking a 500-mile trail network circling the Bay.
Flood risk reduction along Coyote Creek:
The water district has made great strides in preparing Coyote Creek for the winter. District crews installed two short-term barriers in the Rock Springs neighborhood of San José, and installed new stream gauges and markers along the creek to enhance information availability. We also developed a new website to monitor creek levels and warning thresholds. The board of directors voted to operate Anderson Reservoir at a lower level to reduce the risk of flooding downstream, and will evaluate this operation measure each year to ensure our water supply is not compromised.
We also worked closely with the City of San José to reduce flood risks on city-owned property. With access granted by the city, crews removed downed trees in priority locations and up to 16 acres of invasive plant species, including Arundo donax. This thick, invasive plant can obstruct the flow of water and trap woody debris during storms. This helped improve creek habitat and remove potential obstructions.
On November 3, both the city council and water district board approved a joint Emergency Action Plan (EAP), which defines a critical strategy for how both agencies prepare, communicate and respond to flooding on Coyote Creek as well as other waterways in San José.
We continue pursuing a long-term project. The water district is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a feasibility study to assess flood risks and evaluate the possibility of a federally supported project. Both agencies are finalizing an agreement. Concurrently, the district is in the planning phase for the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project, a part of the voter-approved Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program. The board extended the proposed project by 2.9 miles to Tully Road and revised the target level of protection to a storm of similar magnitude to last winter’s, which was the largest flow seen in Coyote Creek since 1950.
Additional flood risk reduction measures:
- After a dismally dry February, March has come in like a lion. Rain and snow has fallen in the mountains surrounding Santa Clara Valley, and the forecast shows several more storms on their way. While unanticipated stream or storm drain blockages could always cause localized flooding during a rainstorm, we do not currently anticipate any creek flooding issues. In preparation for this series of storms, all five of our sandbag sites have been fully stocked. In addition, cities around the county operate an additional 18 sandbag sites. Our maintenance staff stands ready with heavy equipment to respond to reports of downed trees or large debris flows in locations where we have property rights. We are monitoring streams for blockages at key bridges and culverts
- The water district is in support of Senate Bill 919 (SB 919), authored by Senator Bill Dodd of Napa, which requires the state to develop a plan for a statewide network of stream gauges, and identify funding needs and opportunities to reactivate existing gauges. Stream gauges are instrumental to monitoring storm impacts in our region and initiating emergency response. The water district has a local network of more than 140 stream and rain gauges. Although SB 919 does not fund a statewide stream gauge network, the plan created may lead to more state funding and is a first step toward more robust stream gauge infrastructure and data collection. The water district will advocate in Sacramento for the enactment of this important piece of legislation and its role in improving public safety.
- The water district and City of San José are prepared to protect vulnerable communities, like Alviso, when storm drains are overwhelmed. The city has increased pumping capabilities and improved cleaning operations of storm drains. The water district provided a pump, generator and operator to the Alviso Pump Station during winter months.
- A pilot X-Band radar system installed at the Penitencia Water Treatment Plant measures real-time rainfall for the area within a 24-mile radius. This data helps improve accuracy of data collected by our existing rainfall gauge network and allows us to improve our real-time creek flow forecasts to provide more refined flood warnings to local jurisdictions.
- The water district has also made great strides on the Lower Berryessa Creek Flood Protection Project. Construction of critical flood protection improvements in Milpitas began in May. The district removed and raised a pedestrian bridge between North Milpitas Boulevard and Hillview Drive to allow for the installation of floodwalls. Crews also began work on raising the existing levee. The district will work with the City of Milpitas to ensure the bridge is safely reopened to pedestrians by spring of 2018.
Lastly, I want to stress the importance of attending neighborhood meetings. As chair of the water district board of directors and your District 3 representative, I am happy to make myself available to hear your input and concerns. In the last few months I’ve attended several neighborhood meetings and business association groups in the Berryessa, Alviso and River Oaks communities to provide information on our efforts and to listen to your concerns and ideas. I encourage neighborhood groups to join the Neighborhood Businesses Association to enhance representation. Our voices are stronger together. By joining forces, we can have the ear of the mayor and San José City Council, and work toward solutions that address community needs. Those interested in joining a larger neighborhood association can get more information with the United Neighborhoods Santa Clara County, or call 408-981-3833.
I would also like to request your assistance in keeping our waterways clean and healthy by reporting illegal dumping. You can call 408-535-3500 and send photos and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org. To report issues in creeks, residents can call 408-630-2378 or submit a service request to Access Valley Water.