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Coyote Valley: A Watershed View

Coyote Creek at Henry Coe State Park. Photo credit: Deb Kramer

By Megan Medeiros, Executive Director, Committee for Green Foothills and Brian Mendenhall, Project Manager, Water Resources Planning and Policy, Santa Clara Valley Water District

The 321-square mile Coyote Watershed is the largest and most diverse in Santa Clara County. It encompasses parts of Morgan Hill, San Jose, and Milpitas, and contains more than 30 creeks, all of which are tributaries of Coyote Creek, the longest creek in Santa Clara County. From above Anderson Reservoir in the Diablo Range, the Coyote Watershed begins in Henry Coe State Park and drains westward into Coyote Valley. From there, Coyote Creek flows north into San Jose and then into San Francisco Bay.


Coyote Creek and its tributaries in Coyote Valley. Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara Water District.

Who protects the Coyote Watershed?

That’s the job of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (no, that’s not where you get your water bills from — that’s the San Jose Water Company and other water retailers). The Water District manages water resources and has a three-pronged mission:

  • Water supply
  • Flood protection
  • Environmental stewardship

The convergence of these three parts of the Water District’s mission is exhibited in the Upper Coyote Creek sub-watershed, known as Coyote Valley, and is evidenced in the Water District’s “One Water Plan.” This long-term plan calls for integrated water resource management on a larger scale. Historically, the District looked at and evaluated plans on a creek-specific basis. Instead, the One Water Plan looks at the District’s mission on a watershed scale, recognizing that actions in one stretch of water or area can affect the entire system.

We saw this in action in February 2017, when upstream flows into Coyote Creek resulted in flooding in downtown San Jose. With an integrated management approach, the Water District is able to act more effectively not only in the areas of water supply and flood protection, but for environmental stewardship as well.

Partnering to Protect Water Resources in Coyote Valley

To help accomplish their respective missions, the District and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority have been partnering for many years. Together they have a shared history of watershed protection.

The District has joined with the Open Space Authority to collaboratively implement the Open Space Authority’s Valley Greenprint and the Water District’s One Water Plan to improve watershed integrity, flood control, water supply and storage, water quality, recreation, wildlife migration, and habitats surrounding creeks and waterways.


Photo credit: Coyote Creek and Lower Silver Creek confluence, Victor Dominguez


Photo credit: Moon over Coyote Creek at Ogier Pond, Ron Horii


Photo credit: Small island in Coyote Creek, Larry Volpe

Two specific examples of this effective partnership are:

One Water Case Study

The Open Space Authority is working closely with the Water District to develop a “case study” for Coyote Valley as part of the Water District’s One Water Plan — Coyote Watershed Report. This effort is focused on identifying how large-scale enhancement and restoration activities in Coyote Valley can help the Water District achieve the One Water Plan’s objectives. Some information from this case study will be used to inform the Coyote Valley Water Resource Investment Strategy, described below.

Water Resource Investment Strategy

The Water District and Open Space Authority are also working together on a Water Resource Investment Strategy (WRIS) for Coyote Valley, a larger effort than the Coyote Valley Case Study for the One Water Plan. This effort seeks to assess, design, and implement large-scale natural infrastructure projects that better leverage open space areas to detain storm water for downstream flood protection, improve water quality in Coyote Creek and Fisher Creek, preserve groundwater recharge and storage, and restore wetlands and riparian areas to increase ecological resiliency. This effort seeks to bring on new partners like the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County as opportunities are identified.

The partnership between the Water District and the Open Space Authority will yield technical information and strategies that can support nature-based solutions to water-related issues in Coyote Valley.

To pledge your support to protect this remarkable place, go to Protect Coyote Valley.

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About Protect Coyote Valley

The Protect Coyote Valley campaign is led by the Committee for Green Foothills and supported by Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, and SAGE — Sustainable Agriculture Education. It aims to preserve Coyote Valley, San Jose as open space that offers flood-buffering wetlands, an essential wildlife habitat and migratory area, and active farmlands.