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September 18, 2012 > Feasible solutions to tidal flood risks

Feasible solutions to tidal flood risks

By Richard P. Santos

With the threat of sea levels rising due to climate change and the reality of an aging levee system, the risk of tidal flooding in the South Bay must be addressed. For decades, shoreline levees, maintained as part of salt production in the South Bay, have also provided a level of flood protection. But in 2003 thousands of acres of these former salt ponds were acquired by the state and federal government in order to allow for habitat restoration.

To address the need for replacing these levees, South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study is assessing tidal flood risks and will recommend flood protection projects that could be eligible for federal funding.

Santa Clara Valley Water District is working with the California State Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and regional stakeholders on the development of the study. The purpose of the study is to identify and recommend projects for federal funding, with goals of protecting urban areas from tidal flooding, but also restoring wetland habitat, and providing public access, education and recreation opportunities.

The study is being conducted through several smaller "interim feasibility studies," so that solutions can be developed and implemented more quickly. The first of these interim studies is addressing the tidal flood risks along all Santa Clara County Baylands and the first project area identified is the urban area of North San Jose, in and near Alviso.

This project would upgrade levees to protect Silicon Valley's "Golden Triangle," bounded by Highways 101, 237 and 880, and extending north into the baylands of Milpitas. Multiple flood events since the mid-1990s have damaged business operations in this area, now home to major high-tech corporations including Intel, Google, Yahoo, Cisco and others. The project would also protect Alviso neighborhoods, as well as important infrastructure such as the airport and sewage treatment plants.

Funding for this project is reliant on federal sources, as well as voter approval of the water district's Safe, Clean Water November ballot measure. The measure would provide a share of the total cost of planning and design for the full shoreline project area as well as funding to purchase lands, easements and rights-of-way as necessary to construct improvements in the urban area of North San Jose and Alviso, as well as a share of the construction costs for that portion of the project.

Once completed, the project will protect more than 500 structures and 37 businesses, allow for the restoration of 2,240 acres of tidal marsh and related habitats, and provide recreational and public access opportunities. It will also provide planning and design to protect nearly 4,700 acres and more than 5,000 structures, including roads, highways, parks, airports and sewage treatment plants.

This is expected to be a federal-state-local partnership, relying on federal funding and participation to achieve the full scope, with reimbursements anticipated from the state. However, if local funding alone is available, the project will be reduced in scope.

Presently, the project partners are developing and refining project alternatives for the Alviso area and are preparing an Environmental Impact Report/Statement scheduled for public review in spring 2013. For more information on this project and the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Study, please contact Ngoc Nguyen, West and Guadalupe Watersheds Projects Unit Manager at (408) 630-2632.

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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