San Francisquito Creek: the next phase of flood protection

A record flood along San Francisquito Creek in 1998 forced hundreds of people out of their homes, some drenched in over 4 feet of water. The damage spread across parts of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, impacting more than 1,100 homes and businesses and causing more than $28 million in damages.

Twenty years later Valley Water and partners from the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority are making strides in bringing flood protection to the region. The authority recently completed a flood protection project from the San Francisco Bay to Highway 101 in 2018. And now the partners are pursuing the next phase that will help protect thousands of residents across three cities and two counties.

This spring, the authority published an updated Draft Environmental Impact Report and hosted public meetings to solicit public input. The report analyzes the environmental effects of potential project concepts in light of the benefits and impacts on the floodplain and watershed. The meetings helped provide a public forum for residents to understand project objectives, ask for clarification and weigh in on the environmental effects as well as the proposed project alternatives.

The next phase of the projects involves looking at ways to improve the creek’s capacity or allow for a safer flow of stormwater upstream of Highway 101. The report analyzes the flood protection benefits, ecosystem restoration and recreational improvements as well as the impacts on the surrounding area. The upstream section of the creek closely evaluated runs from West Bayshore Road in East Palo Alto to the Pope-Chaucer Bridge in Palo Alto.

In early 2017, the authority solicited community input on the possibility of a project that could help protect residents from flooding similar to the 1998 flood. This approach would pursue a smaller scale project achievable with local and state funding options. With the input gathered, the authority put together the current Draft EIR that evaluates 17 different project alternatives. The alternatives are measured by their ability to protect life, property and infrastructure from floodwaters; minimize impacts on the adjacent community and environment; ability to enhance the environment; and minimize operational and maintenance requirements. Those that meet project objectives are then further evaluated by cost and logistical and technical feasibility. Of the 17 alternatives, three advanced through the screening process, meaning they advance for further analysis.

The alternatives that scored the highest criteria ranking include the following flood protection elements:

  • Alternative 2 (of 17): Replacing the Pope-Chaucer Bridge and widen channel downstream
  • Alternative 3 (of 17): Construct one or more detention basins
  • Alternative 5 (of 17): Replace the Pope-Chaucer Bridge and construct floodwalls downstream

An additional evaluation closely compares the environmental impacts, construction feasibility, costs and funding possibilities, as well as public concerns.  That alternative which ranks the highest in this next round is then considered the preferred alternative. Of the three remaining project alternatives, the channel widening and replacement of Pope-Chaucer Bridge ranked the highest in all criteria and is considered the preferred alternative. This alternative obtains the target level of flood protection by modifying the stream only in necessary areas, while removing instream cement structures that currently restrict capacity. It also provides opportunity to restore aquatic habitat that would help steelhead fish and other species. Lastly, it would enrich the community by providing recreational opportunities including two small creekside parks and connect new features to existing trails where possible.

With this preferred alternative presented to the community, the authority will gather any input received and revise the EIR to include the comments and clear responses for the preparation of a final Environmental Impact Report by fall. The final EIR will be presented to the San Francisquito Joint Powers Authority board for certification. Once the report is certified it paves the way to begin the project by having all partner agencies approve the project and either provide funding or approval to begin construction.

To review the Draft EIR or learn more about the project, visit




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