Floods can follow drought

Climate Change has made extreme weather the new normal, with more prolonged droughts and heavier floods.
By Tony Estremera, Valley Water Board of Directors.

The recent rains have brought much-needed water to drought-stricken Santa Clara County. Although not enough to make a dent in our current drought emergency, the puddles that quickly form on streets and highways remind us that flooding can happen anytime it rains. After nearly three years of drought, arid conditions have hardened the ground and increased the chance of flooding due to runoff to streams and creeks during storms.

It’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived through a flood, but according to the National Flood Institute, just one inch of flood water can cause $25,000 worth of damage to your home. About 52,000 homes and businesses in Santa Clara County are within areas at high risk of flooding, or Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA), designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). High-risk means that these homes have a 1 in 4 risk of experiencing a flood over 30 years.

A house located in a flood zone and purchased with a federally insured mortgage is required to carry flood insurance. Most homeowners’ insurance policies don’t cover damage from floods. If you rent a home in a FEMA SFHA, it’s worth considering purchasing flood insurance for your belongings, as a typical renter’s policy does not cover damages caused by rising waters. Be aware there’s typically a 30-day waiting period for the policy to take effect.

To find out where your home is within the floodplain and explore your insurance options, visit valleywater.org/floodready. You can also access stream gauges to monitor nearby creeks during storms, download emergency disaster apps like AlertSCC and learn how to put your emergency plan and 3-day emergency kit together. Every year, Valley Water sends a booklet with flood preparedness tips and resources to every local home and business in the FEMA SFHA. Be sure to look out for your copy, arriving in mailboxes in early December.

Periods of drought and flood are integral to the climate of California. During this century, we experienced flooding during droughts in 2009, 2012 and 2017. Climate change is creating an era of extreme weather, with more extended droughts and heavier floods. A recent study by the University of Berkeley and the U.S. Geological Survey warns that we are coming due for a “megaflood,” an event where a prolonged atmospheric river unleashes a massive flood. The authors point out that such massive floods happen every 200 years in California, the last occurring in 1861-62.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center has issued a La Niña Watch, with drier-than-average conditions in our area for winter 2021-22. The drought continues, but my colleagues on the Valley Water Board of Directors and I have been unwavering in supporting projects to reduce the risk of flooding for more than 100,000 homes, businesses and properties countywide.

I am proud of two such endeavors in my district, the Coyote Creek Flood Protection and Flood Management Measures Projects. These projects, which have been planned with the community’s input, will reduce the flood risk to homes and businesses along nine miles of the creek between Montague Expressway and Tully Road. The area includes several disadvantaged neighborhoods, which would be better protected from damaging flooding and the substantial personal and financial hardship that, tragically, these communities have historically experienced.  

At Valley Water, we make sure to put your tax dollars to work protecting our community from flooding. Even amidst a drought, please take a moment to ensure you are prepared, aware and ready to take action in case of a flood.

1 comment

  1. Looking at the changing climate, this is very accurate. I mean, I was asked to create a flood map for an area that was recently struck with drought.


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