Published in the June 14 – June 27, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By John Varela

John Varela

Every summer since 2001, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has undertaken a five-month-long effort to maintain and improve stream conditions so they can safely carry water during winter storms. From June to October, crews trek into South Valley streams to remove sediment, manage vegetation, clear trash and debris, and stabilize banks that have been eroded during the winter.

During heavy storms, unruly vegetation and sediment washed down from upstream can restrict the flow of water and in some areas, increasing the risk of flooding. Managing vegetation is an important part of stream maintenance. Removing invasive vegetation, weeds and brush improves habitat for wildlife and a healthy stream ecosystem, contributes to improved flows in creeks, and even reduces the risk of fire hazards along neighboring properties.

While the heavy work takes place in the summer, stream maintenance is a year-round effort. Each year district crews inspect stream and bank conditions, especially after storms. Toward the end of the rain season, staff identify projects for the upcoming work season. The water district’s Stream Maintenance Program ensures flood protection projects continue to function as designed to protect homes and businesses along water district streams.

The water district owns 278 miles of streams in the county, but only a portion of them have been improved with flood protection projects.

Throughout the county, the water district works with partner agencies and private property owners to monitor creeks and perform maintenance where the water district either owns the land or has easements. Additionally, maintenance work is very limited on a natural channel, or a creek without a completed flood protection project. Without a completed project in place, work performed on a natural channel threatens both wildlife and properties, harming natural habitat by removing native vegetation and destroying habitat if enlarging the channel to increase the flood capacity. It could also redirect floods to another location downstream.

Limited maintenance like removing trash and debris is allowable, if approved by regulators. Each year the water district works on obtaining the necessary permits from regulatory agencies to proceed with labor on identified priority locations. The permits require the work be completed between the months of June through October.

This work season, the water district has identified more than 400 projects along water district facilities among 63 different streams, consisting of 16 sediment removal projects, 17 stream bank repairs, and hundreds of vegetation management projects. We are also working with our regional partners to identify projects in which they can perform maintenance on their portions of streams that they own. If you own property along a creek and have questions or concerns regarding stream maintenance, contact our Community Projects Review Unit at (408) 630-2650.

We are grateful for the Gilroy residents and business owners who report potential blockages in local waterways. We also encourage reporting of concerns or issues in creeks that can affect the flow of stormwater. If you notice something blocking a stream during a storm, call our flood hotline at (408) 630-2378. You can also report any problems with creeks in our service area to our “Access Valley Water” online customer request and information system.

John Varela is the chairman of the board for the Santa Clara Valley Water District and represents District 1, which includes Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy.