Published in the Jan. 21 – Feb. 3, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Mike Monroe
Say what? A canal alongside Coyote Creek? Yep. Back in the 1930s, and probably even before then, Coyote Valley farmers and orchardists were trying different water engineering schemes for flood control and water supply purposes.
When Coyote Dam and Reservoir were proposed in the mid-’30s, local agriculture interests were extremely concerned about what would happen to their supply of surface water and the Coyote Valley aquifer. The issue, of course, just like today, is how to manage water availability in a feast or famine hydrology cycle.
One idea that came to fruition was to build a canal beginning at the Coyote Creek Gorge, the water gap where Cochrane Road extends into the first ridge line. In the 1920s, a prominent San Jose orchardist named Leroy Anderson helped organize the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation Association with the intent of addressing the falling water table throughout Santa Clara County. As artesian wells dried up, it became necessary for farmers to pump increasingly more groundwater to sustain their crops and orchards. Land subsidence as aquifers collapsed was becoming a major problem back then – and it still is.
Land owners in Coyote Valley have always faced the dilemma of wet winters flooding their fields, with root rot likely. Dry spells meant drilling deeper wells and higher pumping costs. The canal project was designed to mitigate some of their water challenges. A canal would divert some winter runoff in favor of the big water consumers in San Jose and initially store the excess water in percolation zones north of Metcalf Road. Coyote Valley is a natural percolation pond with a high water table as evidenced by the seasonal lake, Laguna Seca, that would always develop near the intersection of Bailey Road and the base of the Santa Teresa Hills. If Coyote Valley ever does develop in a big way, there will need to be a massive and expensive water engineering project to protect lives and property from potentially devastating floods.
Anderson Dam was built in 1950 as the largest water storage and flood control project in Santa Clara County. At the same time, the canal was enlarged and many other water control projects were initiated in response to the region’s growing population. Today, the Coyote Canal has been decommissioned and is an open trench running along Coyote Ridge as it extends northward to San Jose. The trail which we will hike on is actually the old service road along the canal route.
As we approach the U.S. 101 bridge that extends over Coyote Creek, we will see one of the largest passageways for wildlife in Santa Clara County. Critters of all sorts — skunks, raccoons, coyotes and mountain lions — have not adapted well to the gauntlet of roadways that block their travels between the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and the Mt. Hamilton Range to the east. U.S. 101 and Monterey Road are formidable barriers for wild animals to cross and the results are roadkills and a loss of connectivity between landscapes.
There will be lots to talk about as we enjoy an easy stroll along the Coyote Canal.
Keep on sauntering!