Webcams monitor flood-prone areas during storms


It looks tame now, but residents who live along or near San Francisquito Creek know what it can do after a major storm. In 1998 the creek poured over its banks and flooded homes in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

A network of remotely monitored webcams, rain gauges, and even a sonar unit now provides an early warning system. That's comfort to past flood victims along Daphne Way.

"That's pretty good," resident Joseph Thompson said. "You know, at least an early warning system, something that warns the neighborhood in case we ever have to evacuate ever again."

A joint powers authority hopes to expand the system.

"When a rain drop falls in the higher, the upper watershed, it takes at least an hour for it to get down to this location," said Len Materman with San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority. "So we will have some warning if there's a huge rain event in the foothills. But we also want to know what's happening right here because this is one of the areas of greatest threat."

The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) uses webcams, too, "It's more cost effective than actually travelling out to these trash racks continuously during a storm," SCVWD spokesperson Marty Grimes said. "So, yes, it's cost-effective, but it's not going to prevent a major flooding issue if there's an overbanking of a creek because there's just too much water in a creek."

And that's why multiple agencies have been working on plans to address another "once-in 50 years" storm. They're spending over $40 million in state and local funds to improve San Francisquito Creek's ability to drain storm flow into the bay.

"We'll be building some flood walls between the bay and Highway 101 as well, and then up here, where we're standing, we'll be modifying bridges," Materman said. "There are four bridges. In addition to the four bridges that cross the creek, Highway 101 will be re-built over the creek, and that's a Caltrans project."

It will still take a couple of years before some of those projects will be completed. So each approaching storm causes anxiety.

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