Valley Water working to advance environmental justice and equity across Santa Clara County

When Valley Water’s new Chief Executive Officer, Rick Callender, took the helm in July 2020, one of his priorities was to address systemic racism and ensure equity in providing safe, clean water, flood protection and environmental stewardship to all communities within Valley Water’s service area.

Shortly thereafter, with the support of the Board of Directors, Valley Water created a new Office of Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI), charged with promoting equity both internally and externally with stakeholders, and advancing environmental justice.

“The Valley Water Board of Directors believes our agency must continue to work hard to keep water affordable and offer equitable, fair access to flood protection across our various projects. I’m proud that the board unanimously approved a resolution that makes sure racial equity, diversity, and inclusion practices are reflected in our organization to better serve all of Santa Clara County,” said Valley Water Board Chair Gary Kremen.

One of REDI’s first actions was to craft Valley Water’s first-ever resolution Addressing Systemic Racism and Promoting Equity, subsequently adopted by the Board of Directors, that called for updating policies to reflect the importance of environmental justice within Valley Water and throughout Santa Clara County.

Valley Water is prioritizing and advancing environmental justice by establishing meaningful relationships in the community. One way Valley Water is doing this is by engaging all county residents fairly, specifically those who have been historically marginalized in receiving public service. Valley Water is using its Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program to help fund projects in historically underserved and marginalized communities.

Valley Water has a history of funding projects that serve disadvantaged communities. For example, three current Valley Water projects advancing environmental justice include the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project, the Coyote Creek Flood Management Measures Project and the San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project.

The Coyote Creek projects aim to reduce the risk of flooding in neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and highways along Coyote Creek in San José, which includes some of the most vulnerable populations in Santa Clara County. The projects extend for nine miles in historically flood-prone areas and seek to better protect residential, commercial, and industrial areas and major roads and highways from floods.

Since the Coyote Creek flooding in 2017, Valley Water has implemented short-term flood-relief solutions that don’t increase the risk of flooding in other areas. We installed an interim project consisting of a 400-foot-long floodwall and a 500-foot-long berm to Rock Springs community, repaired a damaged levee adjacent to the South Bay Mobile Home Park community, removed invasive vegetation, installed and repaired gauge stations along bridges and road crossings along Coyote Creek.  And within the next 4 years, the interim floodwall will be removed and replaced with a permanent floodwall and berm that will be longer and taller than in the interim condition. 

The South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project will help protect one of the most vulnerable communities in our county from sea-level rise. A study determined that North San Jose and the community of Alviso, considered a disadvantaged community, is prone to flooding at a greater rate than other communities.

A photo of the Alviso shoreline.

The project includes building a 4-mile levee to help protect the community from coastal flooding and sea-level rise, restoring wetland and habitat, creating trails, and increasing public access. Once completed, scheduled for 2028, the project will remove Alviso properties from the FEMA floodplain. By doing so, those residents would no longer be required to purchase flood insurance, which can range from $1,500 to $3,000 per year. The project will protect over 1,000 homes, 100 businesses, and improve 2,900 acres of tidal marsh.

These projects are funded by the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program that voters overwhelmingly renewed in 2020.

As a public agency, Valley Water has a responsibility to advance environmental justice and equity across Santa Clara County. At Valley Water, we believe everyone deserves the right to equitable treatment and access to public services, a healthy environment, and clean water.

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