A TOUR OF LOS GATOS CREEK PROVIDES EVIDENCE OF CALIFORNIA’S SEVERE DROUGHT CONDITIONS, as they were evoked by Governor Brown’s “Proclamation of a Continued State of Emergency,” aside from Santa Clara Valley Water District’s neighborhood updates, stream alerts and other press releases. While state officials talk about imposing larger fines on persons that are found wasting water, that is really a smaller concern; such as when taking a look at what’s happening in the local community shows that severe conditions are now impacting local residents, as well as getting worse.
Last year, neighborhood activists were in our creeks and rivers, pointing to issues of homelessness and gangs, aside from the waste and toxic pollution disposed therein. In turn, that came together with public safety issues, involving law enforcement, fire department and EMS. Of those later regards, emergency response time became a major issue, plus questions about staffing, resources and morale.
Nevertheless, since Governor Brown issued his Proclamation back on 25 April 2014, the drought issue has had even greater significance. The Governor made the announcement just weeks before the primary elections; whereas, since then, conditions have made greater significance.
In previous election years, major deciding issues in elections and governance has been the economy and jobs; but, now, given California’s emergency conditions, it seems that the drought could well take leverage or “sway” over many of these factors. So many of these previous said matters are more than likely going to relate back to the drought and its impact, not just on the ecology, but to the way of life, the local and state economy and even budgeting.
The primary election is complete; but not ceasing are the number of significant fires and drought conditions that are occurring in the greater California State or in that of the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Homelessness and crime issues have not dissipated, as the pollution in the creeks, rivers and open spaces is ever more present, even while community activists and volunteers work to continually mitigate matters. The wave of homelessness seems to be going up, while the stage or feet of water in our creeks and rivers is at record lows. Take a look at open areas of dry vegetation, aside from homeless encampments that are in areas where water flow in the creeks and rivers is currently — in more than a few places — at an actual zero.
For example (at the time of this writing) with regards to the general area known as the “Coyote Creek Watershed,” Santa Clara Valley Water District’s website for the “ALERT Stream Gage Information” stated as of 11 July 2014 at 09:21:53PM PST the following measurements, which include areas within central San Jose/Willow Glen, Campbell and Los Gatos:
|Description||Date & Time
|Los Gatos Ck at Lincoln Ave SF50||07/11/2014 09:02:21 PM||(feet). 4.40||(cfs) 0.2|
|Canoas Ck at Almaden Expwy SF73||07/11/2014 08:28:08 PM||(feet) 1.06||(cfs) 0.0|
|Guadalupe R above Almaden Expressway SF23||07/11/2014 09:01:43 PM||(feet) 0.57||(cfs) 0.0|
|Los Gatos Ck at Lark Ave SF59||07/11/2014 09:16:47 PM||(feet) 1.23||(cfs) 7.3|
|Los Gatos Ck above Bascom Ave SF95-Stage||07/11/2014 08:51:37 PM||(feet) 3.44||
(cvs) Stage Only
Going out to creek sites to do fieldwork for this story, it does indeed seem to prove that the Water District reports are accurate, as evidenced by the attached pictures (only some of which are featured here by the de·Anza Post). Likewise, independent scientific measurement was not conducted, but eyesight and photographs go to show that it’s not too far from the truth.
Arriving at Los Gatos Creek where it runs along Willow Glen’s Lincoln Avenue and Coe Avenue, what’s very noticeable is the waste left from homeless encampments deep into the nearly dried-out creek bed; but, also the very low water stage deep within the recesses of the carved out banks. You are looking at a creek that is so low, that the water is transparent and river stones and the like are visible around the edge and at the surface creek bed. The water is nearly still in some places and at a very slow flow rate in others.
A bridge is built over the creek here at Lincoln Avenue to allow drivers to traverse to the other side of that avenue, going northbound towards midtown San Jose; whereas, attached to that infrastructure is a “Neighborhood Update 2014 from Santa Clara County Water District,” posted in the form of a bulletin:
This bulletin now appears across the creek from San Jose to Los Gatos and informs residents of the creek conditions:
Creeks in Santa Clara County are drying up. Due to extraordinary drought conditions, to extend the amount of time that water will flow in Los Gatos Creek this year, the water district will cut releases from Lexington Reservoir by more than half starting in early July (see chart below). The action will help assure that at least part of the creek will remain flowing until the end of the calendar year. This flow rate is sufficient for water to reach from the base of the reservoir to its confluence with Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose.
Currently, water is flowing out of Lexington Reservoir to supply water; but, as the seasons progress, “no additional water could be released to Los Gatos Creek, and the entire length of the creek would soon go dry until winter rains arrive. ”
Don’t be misguided by the previously mentioned table of measures that shows higher water stages and greater flow rates from Lexington Reservoir. Even though some areas seem better than others, “the new release rate of 5 cfs will result in part of the creek drying… The water district anticipates that flows will stop somewhere between a point south of San Tomas Expressway and Meridian Avenue.”
Indeed, when the creek detours from Glen Eyrie Drive (starting from a turn-off at Lincoln Avenue, just below Coe), the water flow seems to slow down and even come to a relative still point. All along this corridor, the river is bordered by homes along its bank. The creek does not change its course again, until it comes to Willow Street (at the Park) and gets diverted to Meridian Avenue.
A Willow Glen trail entrance is found at Meridian Avenue, just below Curci Drive; whereas there’s another bridge here at which low water levels can be found, underneath dense vegetation. But, the real evidence is not found until continuing outwards towards Blackford Elementary School and eventually to the border of San Jose and the City of Campbell.
Arriving at backside of Blackford Elementary School, there’s a bridge that crosses the creek; but taking a look down into the creek bed is a bit confusing at first. At first look, the bed looked totally dried-out, but the sound of flowing water could be faintly heard. Where is the water?…
At this point, the water has sunken so low off its original banks that it’s hardly discernible. A moving stream is only found by looking from on high atop the bridge while studying the landscape intently below… not easy, but there it is, trickling in the most lower recesses of its path. And to find it amidst such thick vegetation is difficult. It’s a wonder if the remaining vegetation and wildlife here will eventually drink it all-up.
Again, the Santa Clara County Water District says:
When water is lacking, aquatic habitats are impacted first and more severely than other habitats, causing migration, behavior changes and die-off of some animals. Lack of water means wildlife become concentrated in any remaining suitable habitat, increasing competition for remaining resources and increasing the chances for disease outbreaks due to close contact. The widespread nature of the drought has made relocation of any native species difficult to support and, as a result, [California Department of Fish & Wildlife] CDFW has developed a policy that severely limits the instances where rescue or relocation of fish species can be approved.
At the current rate, the County area will hit what’s called the “minimum pool” by October; but, that only gives the community the opportunity to recover from those few months thereafter that season. The Water District estimates that Lexington Reservoir will reach a shallow depth, whereby the water level is lower than the release outlet, thereby bringing the surrounding area to a dry spell, until rainfall.
Santa Clara County’s water reserves are dwindling drastically; but compare this to Las Vegas, in another western state, where that city is currently in dire straits with its release from Lake Mead:
Taking a walk down Silicon Valley’s busy corridor known as Bascom Avenue, the rush of traffic is anything but friendly and the busy infrastructure here seems to engage a hurried atmosphere that overlooks what is happening here at the border between the City of San Jose and Campbell. At the very corner of Willow Glen is a large Ebay campus, one of the valley’s more successful technology companies; which is aside from a major shopping center for Whole Foods, CVS and others across Hamilton Avenue in Campbell. Opposite of Bascom Avenue is the Pruneyard Towers and Interstate-880/Highway-17. Walking this area by foot is anything but accessible and safe, such as when challenging waves of automobile traffic. Between Hamilton and the VTA Light Rail that’s further north on Bascom, there is no pedestrian cross-walk to the Los Gatos Creek trail. When trying to cross several lanes of traffic, cars come rushing across, whereas many drivers honk horns and yell with rage, as if they have no intention to yield to pedestrians.
This is where the Los Gatos Creek trail entrance is located, but which is virtually subterranean to local residents, both literally and figuratively. Once going down into the trail area, valley residents seem to have an amusing escape from the hustle-and-bustle of city life. But, it’s not all carefree.
Few people get down into the banks of the creek, unless they are an activist like Steve Holmes of Friends of Los Gatos Creek and his group of volunteers. It’s on these kinds of creek and river clean-ups that residents can truly see what’s at stake.
Elsewhere in San Jose, as of Saturday morning 12 July 2014, Holmes was out with Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and a group of Silicon Valley professionals, informing them about creek conditions. They congregated at Park and Bird Avenue in San Jose in an effort to start taking ownership of the conditions at large, thereby making them very real and pertinent to residential life. This site is not too far away from where the old KNTV (now NBC Bay Area) was just moths ago devastated by a 5-alarm fire on 14 April 2014, which was soon thereafter said to be arson. It’s also where a Los Gatos Creek entrance is located and down the street from 777 Park Avenue, where the Housing Authority of Santa Clara has planned a new facility (http://777parkavenue.com).
The KNTV fire was just one of several major structural fires of which the San Jose Fire Department has been fighting; which is aside from recent vegetation fires, like the “Curie Drive Fire” on 30 June 2014 which consumed 125 acres. The Curie fire became a 3-alarm fire and required the assistance of CalFire. The SJFD noted back on 11 May 2014, “fire season begun,” with events like this and others along freeways, foothills, golf course communities and so on.
Almaden Valley Residents in San Jose have know about the significance of lake and reservoir waters in fighting local fires. Last 14 June2013, a local group known as Save Almaden Lake posted a video showing CalFire and the SJFD using the water resources of that lake to extinguish nearby vegetation fires in the hill areas of Almaden. Residents here have been concerned about the ecological health of the lake, as well as its role within public recreation, the valley watershed and even fire and safety programs. The video on Facebook shows helicopters dredging water from the lake to dump on a fire nearby: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10201558799915848
There is also a Facebook album:
A larger debate and concern regards Almaden Lake Park, where the Alamitos Creek merges into reservoirs and eventually finds confluence with the Guadalupe River, situated at Almaden Expressway and Coleman Avenue in the Almaden neighborhood. See the lake site here on this Google Map:
The Guadalupe River finds its way into Willow Glen nearby the expressway, as well as travels along the old Almaden Road, bypassing Canoas Gardens Avenue, Malone Road, Willow Glen Way and eventually finding its way up near Willow and Lelong Streets (Tamien Station Area). This is planned as the next wave of activism by Steve Holmes and other neighborhood stakeholders.
For the significance of Almaden Lake, see this video featuring Marty Grimes of the Santa Clara Valley Water District: