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October 7, 2009 > As fall weather fast approaches, it's time to start thinking about flood preparedness

As fall weather fast approaches, it's time to start thinking about flood preparedness

It's that time of year: The temperature outside is cooling and the trees are changing color. Soon, rain could come. Even if we have another dry year, as predictions indicate, just a few big storms could cause flooding in our creeks and streams. So now is the perfect time to start thinking about flood protection.

There are a number of things you can do to protect your property from flooding. The simplest way to start is by checking your rain gutters and drainage system to make sure there isn't any debris clogging them. Another good practice is to periodically examine your property for cracks in the foundation and exterior walls, and seal them. You should also seal small openings around pipes with grout, concrete, crack filler or caulk. A licensed plumber can install "check valves" in sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home. And it's always good to have a stockpile of emergency building materials on hand, such as plywood, plastic sheeting and sandbags.

Other important things to think about include:
* Locate streams and drainage channels in your neighborhood and figure out the best route to get to high ground if necessary.
* Learn how to turn off utilities to your home.
* Be sure to keep your car's gas tank full, so you won't be stranded in a potential flood.
* Make emergency kits for your home and car with supplies such as a flashlight, batteries, water and non-perishable food.

The smartest thing you can do to prepare for floods? Purchase flood insurance. Even if it's not required by your lender, it's still a good idea to protect your property and belongings.

The good news is you're not alone when it comes to protecting your property from flooding. The Santa Clara Valley Water District has numerous projects and programs designed to protect county residents from flooding.

With more than 800 miles of creeks and streams in the county there is a lot of work that needs to be done. This is why the Stream Maintenance Program (SMP) is so important. The SMP is part of the Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Plan. Approved by county voters in 2000, the measure created a 15-year program funded by a modest parcel tax to provide more flood protection along miles of creeks and to care for those improvements through a comprehensive maintenance program.

The most extensive work happens between June and October. In preparation for winter, water district crews remove sediment and soil washed down from the hills into valley-floor streams from last year's rain. They also remove non-native vegetation that can restrict flood flows and crowd out native plants, and they shore up creek banks damaged or eroded by high water during the winter. Lastly, to keep waterways clear, crews have to spend a significant amount of time picking up trash and debris.

In the first four years of this program, the water district removed so much sediment, invasive vegetation, trash and debris and repaired so many eroded creek banks that when record rainfall came a few years ago, our waterways were able to carry floodwaters safely. This same work has also created more natural conditions for fish, plants and wildlife.

An emphasis on environmental improvement is also a big component of the water district's many flood protection projects. These projects are designed to provide protection to the surrounding areas from 100-year flood events, significant floods that have a chance of occurring, on average, once every 100 years. To learn more about flood protection and the projects in your community, and to check out sandbag pick-up sites, visit or call 408-265-2600.

As a lifelong resident of Alviso, a community which has been affected by floods in the past, this subject matter is extremely important to me. I know the devastating losses that can result from flooding, and while we at the Santa Clara Valley Water District are committed to doing everything we can to protect you from flooding, we can't necessarily prevent it. This is why I strongly encourage you to educate yourself about the risk of flooding in your community and to be prepared.

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for Sunnyvale; Alviso; Milpitas; and the Berryessa/Alum Rock communities, east of Highway 101 to the Evergreen community area. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

Guest Column
Director Richard Santos
Santa Clara Valley Water District
October 2009

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