Llagas Creek flood control project is underway

Construction has begun on the first phase of a five-year, $180 million flood control protection project for the historic Upper Llagas Creek watershed, from Gilroy to north Morgan Hill.

Federal, state and county officials participated in groundbreaking ceremonies Aug. 28. “When completed, this project will provide flood protection for residents, businesses and farming areas of southern Santa Clara County,” said Norma Camacho, chief executive officer of Valley Water. “It will also improve the creek habitat for plants, fish and wildlife, an effort which includes planting more than 100 acres of native vegetation to create on-site wetlands mitigation at Lake Silveira.”

Funds for the project are from Measure B, the Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program, as well as other state and federal sources.

“Today marks a significant milestone for much-needed flood protection in the Morgan Hill and San Martin communities,” said Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who represents California’s 19th District, at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Extending 13 miles from Buena Vista Avenue in Gilroy to just beyond Llagas Road within the City of Morgan Hill, the project is designed to protect hundreds of properties susceptible to flooding during storm events. The planning and design effort required the acquisition of approximately 150 parcels and resource agency permit negotiations, as well as consultations with the local community.

“Like many of you, I vividly remember the aftermath of some of the major flooding incidents in Morgan Hill over the years,” said John L. Varela, Valley Water board representative for District 1 and a longtime resident of Morgan Hill, “I want to say thank you to Santa Clara County voters for approving Measure B.”

The  Clean, Safe Creeks project is a  partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the state to plan, design and construct improvements along 13.9 miles of channel. The project extends from Buena Vista Avenue to Wright Avenue, including West Little Llagas Creek in downtown Morgan Hill.

The federally authorized preferred project is designed to protect the urban area of Morgan Hill from a 1 percent (or 100-year) flood, and reduce the frequency of flooding in surrounding areas. Construction includes channel modifications and replacement of road crossings.

The water district continues to work with Congress to aggressively pursue additional federal funds needed to complete the project. In 2012, project limits were extended 2,700 feet upstream to Llagas Road to address public concerns.

Phase 1 construction was approved in May by the Valley Water District’s board of directors. Construction of Phase 1 was scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sep. 3. Work for this phase consists of channel widening and deepening, instream improvements for wildlife and habitat, and revegetation.

The project will be constructed in two phases, with each phase having specific sections where the proposed improvements will occur. With the completion of both Phase 1 and Phase 2, the project will provide 100-year level of flood protection to urban areas of Morgan Hill. This means Llagas Creek should be able to withstand flooding in the event of a large and rare storm event which has a one in 100 (1 percent) chance of occurring in any given year.

Phase 2 will require purchasing approximately 105 parcels (76 permanent, 29 temporary) from private or public agency owners. Approximately 70 of these permanent acquisitions have been acquired to date, with the remaining parcels, along with temporary construction rights, to be acquired by December 2019.

Phase 2 work consists of additional channel widening and deepening, instream improvements for wildlife habitat, and construction of an underground tunnel to carry high water flows, where low flows  will remain within the existing creek that winds through downtown Morgan Hill within Reach 8. Phase 2 is anticipated to be advertised for construction in January 2020 with a start of construction in May 2020, and projected completion in 2024.

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