Many months later, the photographs from the 2017 Coyote Creek Flood look even more eerily strange–cars reduced to strange stranded shapes in flat brown water, homes becoming islands, neighborhoods besieged by flood. But as odd and unreal as the pictures and the aerial drone footage look now, the effects on residents of neighborhoods such as Olinder Park, Rock Springs, and the South Bay Mobile Home Park are all too real. More than 150 residents of San Jose are filing suit against Santa Clara County, the city of San Jose, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District for their continued suffering. Tens of thousands were evacuated from their homes in last year’s Coyote Creek flood, costing the city hundreds of millions in damages and subsequent upgrades to emergency preparedness systems.
Last year’s flood was severe, but not entirely anomalous, and the risks of a similar event are still present, if not increasing. As climate change makes weather patterns, especially rainfall levels, more and more difficult to predict, the chances of a catastrophic flood may grow higher and harder to ascertain. As of now, the City of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District are working together on various projects to reduce the risk of a second catastrophic flood, including the clearing of invasive plants and excessive sediment around the creekbed. There are many things to be done to improve the situation. And there’s one clear way to make it worse.
When the floodplain of a river is paved or developed, water can’t be absorbed easily by the soil. Despite Coyote Creek’s name, it is a river, and much of its floodplain lies in urban San Jose. As the river flows north from Morgan Hill, it passes through Coyote Valley, collecting water from Fisher Creek and providing valuable habitat for a variety of fish, amphibians, and birds, several of which are threatened or endangered. Further development in Coyote Valley, especially road-building and paving, would worsen the absorptive capacity of the land surrounding Coyote Creek and make San Jose more vulnerable to flood risk.
As the city and its voters head into November’s election, it’s important to underscore the serious chances being taken with public safety when additional pieces of the Coyote Creek floodplain are considered for industrial development. Currently, ballot Measure T would provide $50 million in funding to protect key areas of Coyote Valley that serve to buffer floodwaters in times of heavy rain. As improvements are made to various parts of San Jose’s water infrastructure, we’re glad to see solutions to flooding considered that emphasize the importance of another type of infrastructure: the one naturally provided by absorbent soils and open land in Coyote Valley.
About Protect Coyote Valley
The Protect Coyote Valley campaign is led by Committee for Green Foothills and supported by Greenbelt Alliance, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, SAGE — Sustainable Agriculture Education, and the Land Trust of Santa Clara Valley. 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.