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September 20, 2011 > Recent hurricanes remind us to be prepared

Recent hurricanes remind us to be prepared

By Director Richard Santos, Santa Clara Valley Water District

While California isn't typically faced with the gale force winds and torrential downpours, the impacts of the several recent hurricanes to hit the East Coast and the Gulf Region can serve as a reminder to us all of the importance of being prepared. Aside from the devastation the storm conditions created, some of the worst and most expensive damage from these storms were a result of the flooding they caused. Creeks and streams that normally trickle were suddenly spilling their banks due to flash flooding and the surrounding communities were hit hard.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District knows the importance of being prepared. This is why in addition to its Stream Maintenance Program that prepares waterways for the flood season by removing debris and repairing banks, the water district has multiple flood protection projects currently underway. These projects are part of the voter-approved Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Plan, which make it possible to protect homes, schools, and businesses from flooding, while improving the health of creek and bay ecosystems and creating trails and providing open space for recreational enjoyment.

Among the projects underway is the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project. This project is in the Coyote Watershed, the county's largest, which has sixteen major creeks that drain this 322-square-mile area. Coyote Creek, its main waterway, is the longest creek in the county.

Historically, flooding has occurred many times within the Coyote Watershed. The worst flooding in this reach of Coyote Creek since Anderson Reservoir was constructed in 1950 occurred in January 1997. Coyote Creek over-topped its banks at several locations between U.S. 101 and Interstate 280. Many homes and businesses were inundated by up to six feet of water.

In 1995, the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project Reaches 1-3 (from San Francisco Bay to Montague Expressway) were completed to provide a 100-year level of flood protection. In 1997, shortly after construction was completed, the improved channel safely conveyed the highest recorded flows since the construction of Anderson Reservoir. Without the project, these flows would have certainly overtopped the old levee system and again inundated the community of Alviso, which was devastated by flooding numerous times over the past 50 years.

The current project is located immediately upstream from the Coyote Creek (lower) project, and is the next reach planned for improvement as work progresses upstream. The estimated cost for completion of the project as a whole exceeds $500 million, however, the Clean, Safe Creeks plan covers only $30 million. Given these cost constraints, the planning process will move forward with an emphasis on performing some construction work from Montague Expressway to Berryessa Road.

Projects like these are important because, once completed, they can make the difference between suffering from the devastating effects of flooding and weathering the storm. Had the first portion of this project not been completed before the 1997 storms, I could have lost my home. This is why I encourage the public to get involved in the water district's flood protection projects. One day, one of them could save your home too.

To learn more about this project and ways that you can stay safe before, during and after a flood, visit www.valleywater.org.

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for the northern areas of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara; Alviso; Milpitas; and the north San Jose and Berryessa communities. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

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