Creek flooding concerns on Peninsula

January 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
One of the most troublesome creeks on the Peninsula is the San Francisquito. This winter storm will be a real test to see if recent improvements will be able to stop the flooding that often happens in that area.

In most parts of the Bay Area, man-made ditches or concrete canals handle storm runoff. However, on the Peninsula, the San Francisquito Creek does the job, but not always perfectly.

One-hundred named creeks flow through the hills of the lower Peninsula. Some are visible above ground, while others flow under the surface. Many of them make their way to San Francisquito Creek, which runs into the bay. In big storms, it can lead to flooding.

"It has risen to flood levels, which we had to evacuate the neighborhood and help families and kids to move out of here," says Johsie Rosales, an East Palo Alto resident.

Long-time residents of Daphne Way in East Palo Alto remember 1998 when a so-called "hundred year" storm saw the creek spill into their houses and yards. Since then, almost six million dollars have gone into levee repairs and improvements.

Residents can now go online to monitor the creek level, even view live video from a webcam. Eighty-percent of the watershed is on private property.

A non-profit group has been trying to find a short-term solution. However, development has made the problem worse.

"Roads, parking lots, large paved areas don't exactly do a lot to allow water to filter through the watershed so that it doesn't pour into San Francisquito Creek and potentially exacerbate flood issues," says Ryan Navratil with the San Francisquito Watershed Council.

Most of the creeks flow east from the hills. Major roads on the Peninsula run north and south, crossing bridges where debris can impede the runoff. Homes and businesses have been built adjacent to the creeks. Most years, they co-exist without a problem.

"If you build in a flood plane, you have the potential of being flooded out. Maybe that's one of those risks that you run when you live so close to this natural resource. So you appreciate it 99 years, but then one year out of a hundred, maybe you get flooded out," says Navratil.

That's little consolation to creekside residents who watch the water level for fear they will be flooded out again.

Tim Gibson is hopeful this storm will be kind to his father's house. He's taking it day by day.

"I think we could stand about two... two of this constant rain, we could stand," says Gibson. "Anything over that, then I'd probably be worried. I'd have to really monitor the creek."

The creek has risen dramatically over the course of the day, but it still is relatively calm. It would take a force about 10 times higher than what we're currently seeing to match the flood conditions that happened in 1998.

Bay Area severe weather resources
Click here for Information on sandbag pick-up locations, flood trackers, river gauges, flood preparedness, hotlines and emergency resources.


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