Hope for a safe winter, but also be aware, prepared, and ready to take action

Creek in the Third Street Park in downtown Morgan Hill overfilled in the 2023 winter flooding. Photo by Marty Cheek

By John Varela

John Varela

We’ve witnessed extreme weather during the past few years. In 2023, we emerged from a three-year drought that concluded with an impactful series of storms, filled reservoirs and one of history’s heftiest Sierra Nevada snowpacks on record. Although we’ve recently seen some moderate storms, we know anytime it rains, it can flood, so we must be ready.

Valley Water is prepared for what comes our way this year. We know the climate is changing, and extreme weather is the new normal. That’s why our crews work hard year-round to clear creek channels of debris and blockages that can cause localized flooding. They ensure 300 miles of creek are ready for storms, removing sediment and repairing levees.

In addition to maintaining our waterways, Valley Water is committed to constructing flood protection projects for all of our vulnerable communities. In May, we finished building a 2,300-foot-long tunnel underneath downtown Morgan Hill. This massive tunnel will divert stormwater high flows into an underground bypass, protecting properties along West Little Llagas and Llagas Creek in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and San Martin.

The tunnel is part of the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project, comprising about 13.9 miles of flood protection improvements in South County. As a longtime resident of Morgan Hill, this project holds great significance to me. Once complete, the project will protect downtown Morgan Hill from a 100-year event flood, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

At left: Workers clear a clogged storm drain on W. Main Avenue after a series of storms battered the state. Above. Workers clear vegetation from a creek.
Photos by Marty Cheek

As we prepare for the winter season, it’s important for everyone in the community to engage in emergency preparedness as well. Take a minute to ask yourself if you’re flood-ready.

The first step to being flood-prepared is knowing your risk. Whether you own or rent a home, knowing if you’re in a flood zone is important. Visit valleywater.org/floodready, enter your address, and you will see your location on the flood map.

Protect your home from flooding with free-filled sandbags. Valley Water manages a sandbag site in Morgan Hill located at the El Toro Fire Station on Old Monterey Road. There are additional sandbag sites managed by cities throughout South County. These sites are stocked with either filled sandbags or sand and empty bags for self-filling and require you to bring your own shovel. You can find information on the additional sites at valleywater.org/sandbags.

Please have your family download Santa Clara County’s emergency app, ALERTSCC, to receive notifications straight to your phone in case of an imminent flood. We also encourage anyone living near a creek to use our Surface Water Data Portal. This real-time data portal allows users to see Valley Water’s rain, stream and reservoir sensor data easily. This helpful tool and other important flood tip information can be found at valleywater.org/floodready.

We’re hoping for a safe winter, but being aware, prepared, and ready to take action is crucial.

John L. Varela is on the Valley Water Board of Directors representing District 1, which includes South Valley.