Un-Dam It?

November 17, 2010

The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority which consists of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, San Mateo County Flood Control District, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District was issued a Notice of Preparation and completed the scoping for a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the San Francisquito Creek Flood Reduction Project East Bayshore Road to San Francisco Bay. The Project’s goals are to improve flood protection, habitat, and recreational opportunities within the project reach, with the following specific objectives:

• protect properties and infrastructure between Highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay from San Francisquito Creek flows resulting from 100 year riverine flood flows in conjunction with a 100-year tide and projected Sea Level Rise;
• accommodate future flood protection measures farther upstream of the project that may be constructed;
• enhance habitat along the project reach, particularly habitat for threatened and endangered species;
• enhance recreational uses; and
• minimize operational and maintenance requirements.

Increasing the Creek’s flow capacity from San Francisco Bay to Highway 101 would be achieved by:

• Widening the Creek channel within the reach to convey peak flows for 100-year storm events.
• Removing an un-maintained levee-type structure downstream of Friendship Bridge to allow flood flows from the Creek channel into the Palo Alto Baylands Preserve north of the Creek.
• Configuring flood walls in the upper part of the reach for consistency with
structure for Caltrans’ enlargement of the Highway 101/East Bayshore Road
Bridge over San Francisquito Creek.

Project elements include:
• flood walls in the upper project reach downstream of East Bayshore Road,
• levee setbacks and creek widening in the middle reach between East Palo Alto and the golf course, and
• an overflow terrace at a marsh elevation along the Baylands Preserve.
San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority. See www.sfcjpa.org

There are vocal advocates for the removal of Searsville Dam. This is an idea that’s been bandied about for at least ten years now.

The 65-foot Dam has been accumulating mud behind it and preventing steelhead trout runs for 118 years now but also providing water for irrigation on Stanford property and preventing floods in cow-munities downstream such as Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

The Dam, which creates Searsville Lake, is a major source of San Francisquito Creek. The Creek is a part of Woodside and flows through other local Towns. The Dam itself lies in the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

The silted-up lake (which has been filled more than 90% with sediment over the years) and dam are considered by the Jasper Ridge Advisory Committee to have important value to the Preserve The Committee reports that “Ecologically, it supports a range of habitats, including the reservoir itself, the associated wetlands, and all of the habitats with species that use the reservoir and wetlands for feeding or breeding.” The judgment of the Jasper Ridge Advisory Committee is that the continued existence of a reservoir provides important values for the Preserve. They contend that the available evidence indicates that careful dredging to maintain open water can sustain nearly all of these values, and that the impacts of the dredging can be managed in a way that does not create unacceptable levels of damage or risks to the Preserve’s goals, operations, environment, and values.

On the other side of the argument, Matt Stoecker, a biologist and founder of Beyond Searsville Dam, says that the lake is a home to invasive species like largemouth bass and bullfrogs that eat native species. He has argued that the biological benefits of dam removal are clear. More than 30 environmental groups have reportedly signed on to his position. Beyond Searsville Dam has published a letter with its recommendations for this EIR.

While much greater use of the water behind the dam was the norm in previous years, due to the silt that’s built up its currently used primarily to water Stanford golf courses. For now, Stanford officials plan only on dredging the lake, instead of removing the Dam.

Meanwhile, the Dam, which lies near the San Andreas fault, continues to build up a potentially dangerous amount of mud with the potential for catastrophe if the Dam ever fails. An example of which illustrates the potential danger occurred recently in British Columbia . What would a Dam failure due to the thousands of people who live along the Creek and its floodplain?

Our Town COWncil has never taken a position on this issue, although they’ve been vocal on other regional issues such as the Redwood City Saltworks project. The EIR will not be complete and available for public review until some time next year. In the meantime, our COWncil needs to educate itself and all COWs so that Woodside can weigh in on what should be done with the Dam, the Lake, and our Creek.

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