An answer to flooding in Morgan Hill

Water district to start construction on Llagas Creek project

FLOOD EPICENTER A view to the north up Llagas Creek at Main and Hale avenues during a light rain March 23. Observers have noted that when the creek crests over its bank during heavy rains at this location, downtown Morgan Hill is likely to experience flooding. Credit: Michael Moore

It’s a sight that’s familiar to Morgan Hill residents—a heavy rain that causes Llagas Creek to rise, threatening to fill downtown streets with muddy creek water, and flood homes and businesses.

After 50 years of planning and wishful thinking, the Santa Clara Valley Water District—now officially Valley Water—is finally ready to break ground on the Llagas Creek flood protection project. A 15-year long parcel tax, the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program, was passed in 2012 and helped fund the Llagas project.   

The total cost of the project is about $184 million. The funding comes from the following sources, according to district staff: $54.4 million from the parcel tax, $3 million provided from the City of Morgan Hill, $17.3 million from the district’s Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Fund, $37.1 million from the Safe Clean Water Fund, $32 million from the California Department of Water Resources State Subventions Program and $40 million from the district’s Watershed and Stream Stewardship division.   

The water district said the first phase of work on the watershed is expected to start in June; phase two is expected to begin later in the summer, with the whole project taking around three years to complete. The project spans from Buena Vista Avenue in Gilroy upstream to Llagas Road in north Morgan Hill.

The northernmost section of the project, known as Reach 8, goes through downtown Morgan Hill along West Little Llagas Creek, which flows in a southeasterly direction.

Valley Water director John Varela, who represents the district that includes Morgan Hill on the board, said the project is great news for South County residents.

“Flooding is something the water district is all about, and we take every measure to prevent it,” said Varela. “Mother Nature can deliver one wollup of a storm, and we have to be prepared to prevent it.”

Varela said the June deadline for construction was not a hard deadline and may be subject to change, but construction is anticipated for “early summer.”

The construction will widen and deepen the creekbed, and is expected to provide 100-year level flood protection to some urban areas of Morgan Hill. A 100-year flood is defined by the water district as “a flood that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded during any given year.”   

According to Gina Adriano, the water district’s public information representative, Morgan Hill receives more flooding than any other area in the Llagas watershed.

The watershed experienced record flooding in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2017.

“The City of Morgan Hill has experienced more flooding than the City of Gilroy primarily due to increased urban development in Morgan Hill along both banks of West Little Llagas Creek,” Adriano told the Times in an email. “The downstream sections of the Llagas Creek watershed occur primarily within the rural sections of the City of Gilroy and the unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County (and) San Martin.”

While the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project was first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, planning began in earnest in 2009. The water district released its environmental impact report in 2014.In March 2019, the district announced the alternative they would take to complete the widening and deepening of the waterway.

Adriano told the Times that the 2009 floods caused around $200,000 worth of damage and were the most damaging floods in recent memory.

Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine said he is relieved the project is finally taking place. “It will give our residents a little peace of mind knowing their properties won’t continue to flood,” he said.

He said Morgan Hill residents had endured flooding for so long that he was happy to see “light at the end of the tunnel.” Constantine said a solution to the flooding had been a long time in the making, and he hopes the project would stay on the current timeline.

Jose Villarreal, public information representative for the district, told the Times that the first phase of construction would cause some temporary impacts, but mainly in more rural areas. He said that the district was working with Morgan Hill and Gilroy to create alternate truck routes and in residential areas, temporary walking trails.

The project summary said, “The project will result in providing flood protection for 1,100 homes, 500 businesses, and over 1,300 acres of agricultural land in southern Santa Clara County.”   

On March 26, the water district was expected to hold a signing ceremony with the Army Corps of Engineers. Varela said this would allow the district to start construction following the selection of a contractor.

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