A new project to reduce flood risks from rising sea levels is underway in North San Jose’s Alviso neighborhood.
On Thursday, South Bay officials broke ground on the first phase of the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project—a local, state and federal partnership to provide tidal flood protection in the area, as well as restore and enhance tidal marsh and related habitats.
With a total estimated cost of $545 million, the project is the first of its kind in Santa Clara County to help protect the southern end of the San Francisco Bay from coastal flooding and rising sea levels due to climate change.
“What we know about climate change is it’s worsening our extreme weather,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California Natural Resources. “So remarkably amid a period of extended drought, we can experience these atmospheric rivers and what climate change is doing is intensifying these winter storms. That’s a big deal in the San Francisco Bay Area, obviously, because almost 4 million people live around the bay.”
According to Valley Water, the project will provide coastal flood protection through a combination of levees, wetlands and transitional zone habitats known as ecotones. The district said ecotones will provide an additional buffer for the levee while also allowing marsh habitats to migrate as sea levels rise. The project’s origins come from a 2003 acquisition of thousands of acres of former salt production ponds.
The first phase of the project is between the Alviso Slough/Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek. About half of the first phase will be complete by January 2024. Until then, pedestrian access to the eastern half of Alviso Marina County Park will be closed due to construction. Once the project is completed in 2036, it’s expected to provide flood protection to more than 1,000 residential structures and 100 other buildings.
San Jose’s Alviso neighborhood is particularly at risk of flooding because it sits at the southern end of the bay. Its trails and make-shift levees at the salt ponds are also very weak.
“When Cargill used to manage these ponds, they would come with a truck, dig them at the toe of this and just plop it on here. So this is just bay mud, it’s not strong,” Rechelle Blank, chief operations officer for watersheds at Valley Water, told San José Spotlight.
Blank continued because it is just mud, it can’t withstand a storm or an earthquake, putting thousands of residents at risk.
“So we need to replace these with engineered structural levees and that’s why we joined with the Army Corps, who are building them,” Blank said.
So far, roughly $200 million of the project’s funding has been secured. Officials are starting construction in the area most at-risk: Alviso.
“This is a great day for the businesses and the community of Alviso,” Valley Water board member Richard Santos said. “I’m a native of Alviso, and I have experienced major flooding three times in my life. That experience influences my work at Valley Water and reinforces my goals and ensures that we keep communities safe through our flood protection programs.”
The South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project is a partnership between Valley Water, California State Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and regional stakeholders. In addition to providing flood protection and restoration of 2,900 acres of tidal marsh habitat, the project also aims to offer recreational and public access to Santa Clara County’s shoreline.
“This project is so important to the communities here. It’s not only going to protect (residents) from flooding, it’s also going to bring the best part of the bay right to their doorstep,” said Matt Brown, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.