San Jose City Council, water district to hash out solutions following flood

2017-04-28 | San Jose Mercury News

April 28--SAN JOSE -- In the wake of February's massive Coyote Creek flood, San Jose and Santa Clara Valley Water District officials clashed over why residents weren't warned, how communication about the flood risk broke down and who is responsible for clearing junk from the creek.

Two months later, the two sides are coming together in a joint meeting Friday to clarify their roles, develop a plan to monitor and assess flood threats and improvement projects to reduce future flood risks.

"We will be discussing and reviewing current and future plans to improve flood prevention and communications between the district and the city," said John Varela, chair of the water district's board of directors. "This is not a meeting to go over the details of the Presidents Day weekend flood and what went well and what didn't. This meeting is an opportunity to determine the best steps forward on behalf of the residents of San Jose to reduce any future flooding."

The flood on Feb. 21 triggered 14,000 evacuations and left hundreds of San Jose residents homeless in three neighborhoods. It caused more than $100 million in public and private property damage.

San Jose came under fire for not warning residents or evacuating them before floodwaters forced fire crews to rescue people by boat. Days after the flood, Mayor Sam Liccardo blamed the water district for providing inaccurate data about how much water Coyote Creek channels could handle, delaying the city's decision to evacuate.

But water district officials said those figures were only estimates and that San Jose was warned about the flood risk on conference calls and should've been monitoring water levels.

"Regardless of some of the pointed language in the past few months, I think everyone understands we have a mutual responsibility to do what we can to reduce the risk of flood in the future," said San Jose spokesman David Vossbrink. "I hope we can come out of this with a deeper understanding of how we can work together for prevention, management and response in the future."

On Friday, city and water district leaders will hash out an "emergency action plan" that defines flood threat conditions, methods to detect the threat and creates notification triggers, including when to issue early warnings to residents and businesses.

The plan will define the severity of risk in three stages and lay out actions to take place at each stage, according to a staff report. Vossbrink said it's important the warning triggers are defined in language that both agencies can understand.

Officials hope to make progress on the plan by October.

Another sticking point for San Jose and the water district has been stream maintenance. While it's still unclear if debris or trash in the creek exacerbated flood conditions, the two agencies argued over their responsibilities for cleanup. Water district officials said San Jose owns part of the creek channel and is responsible for maintenance -- especially since it's a natural channel.

But City Attorney Rick Doyle said responsibility for stream maintenance belongs to the district.

At Friday's meeting, the two agencies are expected to develop a maintenance agreement that spells out who is doing what and where. Vossbrink said the city's ready to give the water district any right of entry to property it owns along the creek.

The agencies also will discuss future flood protection efforts during the joint meeting.The options include improvements for infrastructure and "short-term flood relief solutions" that can be put in place before next winter.

The ideas won't require a permit and do not induce flooding elsewhere, water district officials said, including flood barriers and storm drain backflow devices.

But water district leaders say funding is lacking for long-term flood protection projects. The board will ask Liccardo to sign a letter of support for the district's requests for federal funding for flood protection projects along Coyote Creek.

Officials also will dissues the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit Project, which began in 2012 to bring the dam -- constructed in 1950 -- up to current seismic safety standards. The $400 million project is in the design phase, and district officials are seeking state and federal funding to move it forward.

The joint meeting of the San Jose City Council and Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors will begin 9 a.m. Friday at the water district headquarters, 5700 Almaden Expressway in San Jose.