By Katie Kramon
The San Francisquito Creek Flood Reduction Project will begin this spring, according to Palo Alto City Council member Pat Burt. He said that the project will aim to prevent the creek’s overflow from damaging surrounding homes.
The Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has been discussing the issue ever since a large flood in 1998 put many residents out of their homes and shut down Highway 101 for one day. Burt said that it was clear that significant steps needed to be taken to improve protection in case of flood events.
According to Burt, the JPA has decided to prioritize the protection of downstream homes in East Palo Alto, some of which are protected by levees because they are at low elevation, before continuing upstream to the Palo Alto and Menlo Park areas. He added that starting upstream and working down into East Palo Alto could make downstream homes more vulnerable to flood damage in the interim.
The JPA was formed originally to work with the Army Corps of Engineers, the group that traditionally provides flood protection. It represents the three cities, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and two counties, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, that the creek affects. Burt said that after eight years of working with the Corps, the project still seemed incredibly tedious and was decades away from funding and completion.
“Twenty years was too long to wait to begin such a vital project,” Burt said.
The JPA decided to redirect the project and instead map out a parallel plan for the estimated $100 million project.
The second version of the plan still involved the help of the Army Corps of Engineers but added local funding for the project through taxes and grants.
Caltrain, according to Burt, has agreed to help with reconstruction of Highway 101, raising the surrounding levees to protect the highway from another major flooding event like the 1998 flood. There has also been state grant funding awarded to fix bridges that do not conform to standards and to improve their ability to withstand weather damage.
The 1998 flood damaged 1,700 properties, the vast majority of which were in Palo Alto surrounding the Polk-Chaucer Bridge, according to Len Materman, head of the JPA. It also caused 28 million dollars worth of damage.
While implementing more effective flood control, the JPA also plans to open up areas in range of the creek to the National Wildlife Refuge, repair dilapidated bridges, enhance golf courses and create new bicycle and pedestrian trails.
Materman added that the project will produce 14 acres of new wetlands, which he described as “extremely valuable” because they are specifically suited for three endangered species: the steelhead trout, the clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.
“Our work will create a greater conductivity between the salt and freshwater ecosystems surrounding the creek,” Materman said.