San Jose, Santa Clara Valley Water District Improve Flood Protections in Time for Winter

When Coyote Creek flooded thousands of people out of house and home earlier this year, local officials were slammed for failing to prepare for or warn people about the disaster. After initial finger pointing between the city of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District over whom to blame for the estimated $100 million in damage, the two agencies spent the ensuing months working together to bolster defenses against future floods.

Last month, the water district—the South Bay’s lead flood control agency—began constructing two flood barriers in the Rock Springs neighborhood, which bore the brunt of the flooding Feb. 21 to 22. District crews installed a 500-foot-long and 3-foot-high vinyl sheet wall between the Coyote Creek and the largely low-income central San Jose community. They also put in an earthen berm that’s 5 feet tall and 400 feet long.

The district expects to complete the Rock Springs projects by the end of December.

Earlier in the summer, the agency also repaired a levee at the South Bay Mobile Home Park by Old Oakland Road—another neighborhood hit the hardest by the February flood.

Though the barriers won’t eliminate flood risk in the low-lying area, officials say they will prevent the kind of devastation that left hundreds of people homeless after the record flood on this year’s President’s Day weekend.

As the district ramped up work on immediate flood protections, it also renewed a lobbying effort for long-term capital projects. During a trip to Washington D.C. in the spring, the district’s board of directors got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider studying the feasibility of a federally backed flood protection project. Corps officials followed up with a trip to Rock Springs in August, going on a tour of the neighborhood where 2 feet of floodwater had submerged a playground six months prior.

According to the district, the two agencies are finishing off an agreement to commence with the feasibility study.

Jeffrey Hare, an attorney whose Naglee Park neighborhood was inundated by the February flood, said he’s especially heartened by the district’s flood prevention measures for the Anderson Reservoir.

On Oct. 10, the water agency’s governing board agreed to operate the reservoir at 40 percent capacity to prevent flooding downstream. Coyote Creek floods when the reservoir spills over the dam, but installing pumps to prevent spillover would cost up to $5 million a year, according to the district. It’s far cheaper to simply keep the water levels low.

“That was a very positive measure,” Hare told San Jose Inside. “I have a better feeling about next winter now.”

Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District

Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District

Meanwhile, the district has been working with San Jose on a number of other flood prevention measures. The city recently gave the district the green light to clear trees and vegetation from flood-prone parts of Coyote Creek between Old Oakland and Tully roads.

Since August, the water agency has removed roughly 16 acres of invasive plants along Coyote Creek—including a thick, water-obstructing, debris-catching reed called Arundo donax—to restore natural habitat and prevent obstruction.

Further, to prevent the kind of miscommunication that resulted in delayed evacuation orders this past winter, the city and district drummed up a joint emergency plan to respond to future flooding.

When the waters hit this past February, the city failed to issue emergency alerts in time for people in Rock Springs to evacuate. Many residents found out about the flood when rescue crews showed up on a boat at their door. City officials said they didn’t alert the public in time because the water district gave them flawed data about the levels at which the river would spill its banks.

San Jose has since obtained a certification to broadcast emergency alerts to people’s cellphones. The city also bought four loudspeakers to amplify evacuation orders in multiple languages.

Mayor Sam Liccardo earmarked additional funding in the 2017-18 budget for the city’s Office of Emergency Management, which has undergone dramatic leadership changes in the past year. After bringing the division from the purview of the Fire Department to the City Manager’s Office, city leaders appointed Ray Riordan as its new director. Riordan, who is traveling this week, was not immediately available for comment.

David Sykes, who oversaw the city’s emergency operations during the last flood, has since been promoted to city manager, while Rosario Neaves replaced David Vossbrink as named communications director.

Hate said there’s a glaring omission in the city’s emergency preparedness overhaul, however. Despite plenty of public interest, City Hall has yet to revive its volunteer Community Emergency Response Training (CERT), a program that equips civilians with the skills to deal with a wide range of disasters.

“I’d like to see more civic involvement,” Hare said. “The city has tried to get the CERT thing going, and that has not happened. They have these giant loudspeakers that can blast out warnings in three languages, but they haven’t figured out how to engage the community in a way that I think is going to be necessary when disaster strikes.”

Click here to visit the city's flood preparedness landing page and here for the water district's real-time flood watch data.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. This just pushes problem down stream it’s the old box channel design they sold in 50/60s.
    You trust these idiots @valleywater, look how much they have lied and misused your’s and my property taxes, billion $ payouts to the 1% just google them #valleywater #scvwd and the 800k boardroom you’re buying, will be over 3 million, ask where the project is, all bids to high…..

    • Too bad the water district is finally waking up to do what they should have done 10 years ago. A review of the record shows the district was “sold” on the idea of delay of the small repair project that would have cost less than $2 million to remove the trees and brushes between Montague expressway and Capitol expressway. That recommnedation came from RMC, consultant who ran the Coyote Creek Watershed Program. They pushed the water district staff and board members lobby federal government for $100 million to contruct a much bigger flood control project with concrete lined channels and some tree removal. The feds balked. They staff advised proceeding with the tree removal in order to open up the creek so flood water will flow to the bay for less than $2 million. RMC resisted and carried the day. Now the water district is taking a victory lap for doing what it should have done many years ago.

      The scuttle butt around the water cooler at the district is that the new CEO Norma Camacho and the board of directors will reward Melanie Richardson with a permanent appointment as the Chief of Flood Control in the next couple of weeks when people are preoccupied with their holiday activities and not apying attention to government. Melanie is married to a senior manager at the RMC who ran the Coyote Creek Program for many years. RMC is implicated in the lower silver creek debacle involving over billing. RMC held the contract for building the new silicon valley advanced water purification project on zanker road. RMC almost won the sole source contract to handle a multi-billion water recycling project except for the common sense intervention by trustees Gary Kremen and Barbara Keegan. RMC holds the contract to construction of the Upper Llagas flood control project. Now, her husband, Tom has moved to HDR, a comapny that holds multi-year, multi-million contract to repair Rinconanda water treatment plan and the Sn Francisquito flood control project. Follow the money. Greed is really good. After so many years of milking the district in contract money, now she wants to control the whole purse at tax payer expense. Oh, and by the way, she claims she has no conflict with contract at the water district. Lets have Melanie release copies of her conflict of interest form to show her income and investments, and let the taxpayers be the judge as whether she has a fire wall or not.

  2. Marie Goddard Jamieson,
    Thank you for all of your insight as to the goings on at the District. I’ve been involved with some meetings with our District-6 Director for The Santa Clara Valley Water District, a Tony Estremera. I will forward a link to your comment and this article to see how much he knows about this apparent conflict of interest and see what the board has in mind for this couple which seems to have a stranglehold over the board and it’s finances. It may take the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and that of the Santa Clara County Grand Jury to further investigate these allegations. If the County is not able to help then I suppose we can have the State of California Attorney General’s office and that of our Congresswoman Zoe Loffgrand look into the Federal and State Funding of those projects. The Silver Creek Rehabilitation Project would fall under Tony Estremera’s domain.

  3. Make sure to tell Tony Esmera and his friends on their board to also launch an independent investigation of the many rumors, allegations and claims of sexual harassment and assault against one of their managers, Rick Calendar. All the women that work at the water district are uncomfortable around him for fear this big guy will attack them sexually.

    • Gordon Chen,
      Unlike the concern about RMC and the SCVWD, I have yet to see or hear about Mr. Calendar behaving inappropriately towards anyone including women. He always presented himself as a professional. He seemed very knowledgeable and credible when speaking about the President’s Day Flood. Not only when he spoke to our District-7 Leadership group, but as well to the Mayor, Council, and all of San Jose attending meetings on the flood. He again seemed to act appropriately around his female counterparts on another occasion that our group toured the Anderson Dam giving us background on the upcoming Dam replacement and tour of the flood ravaged areas along the Coyote Creek.

      My Father once told me “Never say Always”, then of course he followed that up with “Never say Never”. In other words don’t generalize. When you say “All The Women” you immediately become suspect in your statement, and you weaken your objective, which I assume is to merely impugn the man’s reputation, all of his hard work, and justification for being.

    • Bruce,
      My girl friend has worked at the Water District for more than 12 years and has a lot of goods on what Mr. Callendar has done to some women over there. She has seen his personnel file and confirmed the record of his advances and sexual harassment cases.

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