San Jose starts preparing for wet winter weather
Valley Water crews cleaning and removing debris from a waterway in Santa Clara County on Jan. 5, 2023. Photo courtesy of Valley Water.

    San Jose officials are gearing up for a wave of expected atmospheric rivers this winter as the rainy season hits the region.

    The rain has started light, but San Jose leaders say they are preparing for another abnormally wet season. The National Weather Service indicates Wednesday’s rain will continue through the weekend, bringing in nearly an inch of water. Such levels are considered by meteorologists to be a “typical winter” storm, unlike atmospheric rivers that are flooding hazards and hit areas of San Jose last year, especially its creeks, roads and parks.

    Nevertheless, San Jose is preparing for the worst. In a Monday news conference, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and Valley Water officials discussed plans to clear drains and prepare waterways to intake extra water.

    “It looks like we have El Niño conditions,” Mahan said. “We could be hit with a series of atmospheric rivers once again.”

    This would be the Bay Area’s second straight year of heavy rains. In San Jose, last year’s rain coupled with strong winds resulted in fallen trees, mudslides and flooded waterways, which closed some city parks indefinitely. The city racked up $31 million in damages across its parks, including Alum Rock Park with $19 million in estimated damages. The rain also displaced homeless people living along waterways, requiring swift action from the city to shelter them elsewhere. Homes were not damaged, but rain filled up local creeks and rivers, leading to minimal flooding throughout several streets and waterways.

    It was a big difference compared to a February 2017 storm that overflowed Anderson Dam in South San Jose, which caused an estimated $100 million in damages. Flooding displaced 14,000 residents from neighborhoods near Coyote Creek, including Rock Springs, Naglee Park and the South Bay Mobile Home Park.

    In the years since, San Jose and the county’s water district have been more vigilant in flood protection. Officials focused efforts on building out the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project over the last few years, including the installation of an interim floodwall and embankment along the creek throughout a nine-mile stretch, to help reduce the risk of flooding.

    “We’re checking the creeks to make sure that the capacity is there so the water can flow through the creeks,” Valley Water CEO Rick Callender said.

    Valley Water spokesperson Matt Keller said the agency has removed excess debris and vegetation from more than 50 different waterways across the county. Officials are taking a more proactive approach in communicating with residents.

    “There’s not a whole lot that we’re doing differently this year,” Keller told San José Spotlight. “But we’ve gotten a lot (of information) out a lot earlier. The lesson learned (from last year) was that it affirmed that we need to be as communicative as possible with the other agencies.”

    This year, in partnership with Valley Water, San Jose has already cleaned more than 35,000 storm inlets, inspected the city’s 31 pump stations and installed portable backup pumps in storm-sensitive areas. Mahan is encouraging residents to look for ways to gear up for storms on their own properties.

    “As we do all of that on our end on the government side, our residents can also take steps to prepare for and respond to winter storms,” Mahan said.

    Officials urged residents to keep curbs and gutters near their homes free of debris, including leaves that can block storm inlets. San Jose residents should also report storm drains, trees or other storm related hazards by calling 311 or 408-794-1900.

    Santa Clara County residents, including those in San Jose, can sign up for weather alerts through AlertSCC. Residents should check whether or not they live in a flood zone and learn how to prepare for intense rain.

    Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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