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Rain brings flooding in South Valley, helps fill county reservoirs

CERT volunteers help fill sandbags for residents

Published in the January 18 – January 31, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Photo by Marty Cheek — CERT volunteer Larry Carr prepares sandbags Jan. 6 in advance of the early winter storms that dumped more than six inches of rain on Morgan Hill.

A series of powerful storms pounded South County during the past week, dumping more than six inches of rain on Morgan Hill from Friday Jan. 6 through Thursday Jan. 12. The initial storm resulted in isolated flooding throughout town as well as numerous road closures and minor power outages, but no major damage.

The rains caused Little Llagas Creek, which runs along the west side of Morgan Hill, to overflow, resulting in minor flooding in downtown Morgan Hill and other areas.

In addition, U.S. 101 from Highway 25 to Monterey Road in both directions was closed from Sunday night Jan. 8 to about 5:30 a.m. Monday Jan. 9 as two feet of water covered the freeway and endangered travelers.

Police and city officials reported “significant” flooding and traffic hazards throughout Morgan Hill due to heavy rainfall but no major damages or injuries were reported. No downtown businesses reported major water damage, according to city officials. Monterey Road at Watsonville Road, Wright Avenue at Monterey Road and Hale Avenue, Bisceglia Avenue and La Jolla Drive were all closed Sunday Jan. 8.

“It was pretty severe and resulted in a lot of flooded roadways and homes near Hollister and Gilroy and lot of power outages,” said Steve Anderson, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Monterey. “It was severe. A once-every-10-year event.”

Almost all the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s 10 reservoirs were at or exceeding capacity as of Jan. 11. Even Anderson Reservoir, which has to stay below 60 percent capacity due to seismic restrictions, was releasing water at the bottom of the dam into Coyote Creek.

“These storms are providing natural groundwater recharge and are helping to fill our reservoirs, which will have a positive impact on groundwater supplies,” said Santa Clara Valley Water District Chairman and Morgan Hill resident John Varela. “Also, these storms are a reminder of just how vulnerable we are to flooding. We will continue to work hard to secure the funding and permits we need to improve flood protection, particularly for Morgan Hill.”

Varela referred to the water district’s Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project. When complete it will provide protection from floods so severe they occur once every 100 years. The 14-mile, $80-million project has been in the works since the 1950s, but has never been finished due to lack of funding. But last year, the district reported that planning is complete and construction can resume this summer.

Friday Jan. 6 volunteers with Morgan Hill’s Citizens Emergency Response Team spent several hours filling sandbags at CERT’s mobilization center in Morgan Hill. Residents came to pick up the sandbags used to block rising flood waters that might damage their property.

Doing the sandfilling before the storm ensures being prepared for the flooding, said Jim Crawford, division chief of Cal Fire as he oversaw the volunteers.

“If they know they’re flood prone, they’re getting ahead of the game there,” he said. “We have sandbags and the weather is good to be out here doing it now than when it’s wet and miserable. We need to be prepared in advance.”

Jennifer Ponce, emergency services coordinator for the Office of Emergency Services in Morgan Hill, said several sandbag stations were located throughout the city.

“We’ve had community members pulling up to get their sandbags, and we’ve asked them to pitch in if they’re able, so it’s been kind of fun,” she said.

Crawford emphasized the drainage infrastructure for flooding control has a physical limit.

“As long as all the storm drains are kept clean, it’s fine until you get three inches of rain, and then the system is full,” he said. “Get three inches in a four or five hour period and then it floods because it takes time for things to recede again.”