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Water district responds to San Jose Mayor Liccardo's letter

Marty Grimes
Phone: 408-681-9265

Sam Singer
Office: 415-227-9700
Cell: 415-336-4949

March 28, 2017

San Jose—Both the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the National Weather Service provided early warnings to the City of San Jose that flooding would occur, but for whatever reason the City of San Jose failed to heed the warnings, according to a letter released today from the water district to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The letter provides the water district’s preliminary answers to questions raised by Mayor Liccardo about what happened prior to and during the storm and subsequent flood.

In a summary of its data, the water district response shows it followed the procedures and protocols and provided the necessary information to the city for it to notify residents that flooding was imminent in the Presidents' Day storm event.

“Our question is: why did the City not act on predictions, maps, data, forecasts and other information from the District and the National Weather Service that flooding was imminent?” asks water district Chair John L. Varela in his response to a series of questions from Liccardo.

Varela notes that had the city acted on information provided by the water district and National Weather Service on Saturday, Sunday or even Monday before the flood of Tuesday, Feb. 21, residents could have been evacuated in a timely manner. The letter to the mayor notes that the city had all the information and warnings necessary, but for whatever reason it failed to act.

In addition to the information--both written and verbal provided by the water district--the city had additional warnings and information from other agencies on which to consider and act:

The National Weather Service held a webinar on Friday, Feb. 17, at 2:30 pm with the operational area, which includes invitations to the City of San Jose, the water district and others, to collectively discuss the anticipated storm. On Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2:30 pm the National Weather Service (NWS) held a subsequent webinar and shared that the stream forecast at the Edenvale gauge was predicted to reach flood stage between Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, Feb. 20 at 3:53 am, NWS issued a Flood Warning for Coyote Creek near Edenvale. The Flood Warning indicated that Coyote Creek at Edenvale was forecasted to rise above flood stage by Monday evening and continue to rise through the night. The California Nevada River Forecast Center website showed that Coyote Creek at Edenvale would exceed the flood stage by mid-day on Monday, Feb 20, and peak at more than 7,600 cfs on Tuesday, Feb. 21 in the morning.

These warnings gave the city time to inform, alert and notify residents that evacuation was necessary prior to the flooding. The city gave every indication that it was taking this action (opening shelters), but did not issue an evacuation notice, the responses from the water district to Liccardo show.

The water district letter also notes that “The City-owned Happy Hollow Zoo evacuated and the County took evacuation/closure actions at two of its facilities. The Zoo and County had the same data as the City and they acted.”

The water district notes that it attempted to deliver sandbags to the City of San Jose corporation yard on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 at 8:53 a.m., but the city’s facility was closed and locked and unstaffed due to the holiday. The water district contacted the City of San Jose Park Service and was finally able to gain access by 11:15 a.m. It should be noted that this site is yards from the Rock Springs area and under 2 miles from the William Street area.

Throughout its response letter, the water district disputes claims by the City of San Jose that it did not provide accurate water flow data and notes that its estimates are within the acceptable range as well as noting that the city had numerous warnings, from the water district and the National Weather Service, that flooding would occur.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District manages an integrated water resources system that includes the supply of clean, safe water, flood protection and stewardship of streams on behalf of Santa Clara County's nearly 1.9 million residents. The district effectively manages 10 dams and surface water reservoirs, three water treatment plants, a state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, nearly 400 acres of groundwater recharge ponds and more than 275 miles of streams. We provide wholesale water and groundwater management services to local municipalities and private water retailers who deliver drinking water directly to homes and businesses throughout Santa Clara County.