SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — On the one-year anniversary of the Coyote Creek flooding in San Jose, officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District hosted a gathering at Rocksprings Park to honor those affected by the storms and discuss future plans for a study on flooding solutions.

On Wednesday morning, temporary flood barriers completed over the summer were on display to show efforts the water district is making in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the type of damage that resulted from the Anderson Reservoir overflow through Coyote Creek.

The feasibility study, which will assess flood risks to inform officials what needs to be done in a potential federally supported project,
is nearly set to begin, according to water district spokesman Marty Grimes.

The study will be conducted in conjunction with the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project, located over an expanse of nine miles between Montague Expressway and Tully Road.

The project was approved by voters as a part of the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program, which provides $22.6 million of community resource funding to projects like pollution prevention and restoring wildlife habitats in Silicon Valley, water district spokespeople said.

“The event today first and foremost recognized that people were negatively impacted from the flooding and some are still suffering,” Grimes said. “Secondly, all the things that the district has done to reduce the flood risks and make us more prepared for next time around.”

Grimes also mentioned that the water district removed vegetation from city property for the first time as well as tree blockages that were largely filling the creek.

Grimes said that while the water district hopes that the flood reduction project will be mostly federally funded, local funding has begun to come through.

“The local funding only option includes identifying short-term flood relief solutions that are permittable and do not exacerbate flooding elsewhere, with implementation to begin prior to the 2017-2018 winter season,” the water district’s project website reads.

Until the time the water district knows if federal funding will be provided or not, they are using the study with the Corps of Engineers to pursue long-term protection.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman and his 14-person team were deployed to Santa Clara County the day after the flooding took place last year.

Schapelhouman, who has been involved in search and rescue efforts for many years, said that it is a positive thing that city and county
officials and agencies are putting plan into action to resolve flood risks but change won’t come overnight.

He compared the Coyote Creek flooding and repairs that it will require to flooding that happened in the San Francisquito Creek 20 years ago in February of 1998.

Schapelhouman said that efforts are still being made now to combat the damage of what happened two decades ago, such as the flood early warning system on the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority website.

“I could get up to two hours of warning now, which is gold to a first responder,” he said.

Schapelhouman has an overall concern that with many flood protection projects, temporary fixes for one area could mean flooding risks in others.

“One of the misnomers is you fix one thing, the water is going to come out somewhere else,” Schapelhouman said. “I think it’s a good move, but the entire landscape is affected. Now where will the problem be moved to?”

He said that his team, which was just a two hour drive away, could have been dispatched the morning of the flood but San Jose’s Emergency Operations Center denied first responders’ request for aid.

“I guess we could use the term ‘a day late and a dollar short,'” Schapelhouman said. “Those guys could have been working the first day had the request been approved by the upper level at the operations center but the people working in the field’s requests were denied.”

The city-contracted independent analysis done by emergency management consultant firm Witt O’Brien’s showed that relief efforts in response to the flood were effective, but the city repeated a key mistake that caused the January 1997 Coyote Creek flood: relying too heavily on the word of the water district.

“In both instances, the city was unnecessarily caught off guard when the flooding occurred, placing residents in a potentially dangerous situation,” Witt O’Brien’s director Brad Gair said in the 2017 Coyote Creek

After Action Report. “While our analysis has noted clear signs of significant progress over the past two to three years, this was not enough to make up for the longer-term neglect of this critical function.”

Witt O’Brien’s stated in the report that prior to the reservoir spillover, city, water district and county officials were “ongoing alert for
potential flooding throughout the region.” According to the firm, numerous local, state and federal agencies participated in conference calls regarding weather forecasts, reservoir levels and projected channel flows.

Conference calls were held on Feb. 14 and Feb. 19, 2017 to discuss actions including Emergency Operations Center activation and public messaging, the report reads.

Looking forward, Schapelhouman said that the community must have short and long view goals, which can be hard given short terms of political officers.

“If we have five years of a drought, how important does it become?” Schapelhouman asked. “Some other priority may get in the way.”
Schapelhouman said that the San Francisquito model could serve as a reality check to Santa Clara County as far as how long it may take to instill procedures for public safety.

“The commitment people are looking for is figuring out how to not have this happen again and what’s the bigger fix, not the Band-Aid,” Schapelhouman said.

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