Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Sweep Prevents Crud in Creeks

Today our street was posted with NO PARKING signs to allow for more thorough street sweeping. It's always amazing to see our street, Brookwood Drive, without a single car parked along the curb. Could call it a dreamscape for someday when we have evolved beyond the ubiquitous automobile as our main transportation device.

Kudos to the folks at San Jose Environmental Services for going the next step in removing litter from the streets BEFORE it reaches the creeks. The alternative is to exert huge effort to remove debris rafts from the creek itself, after long efforts to get help from the Santa Clara Valley Water District to actually expend funds from their parcel taxes to give the community CLEAN, SAFE CREEKS, if not NATURAL FLOOD PROTECTION.

Although I am often bashing the Water District for their blindspots over the years, I am pleased to give praise to the work that some of the staff are currently engaged in restoring wetlands. This is in high contrast to the work they were doing in the early 70's to help put huge malls in the middle of local wetlands.

The project that I am most excited about is the Laguna Seca Freshwater Wetlands Project located toward the northern end of Coyote Valley. This project may actually provide some mitigation for the Upper Silver Creek diversion project that was installed to protect the Eastridge Shopping Center from being flooded, since it is located in part of an old wetlands in the Silver Creek-Thompson Creek watersheds, which are tributary to Coyote Creek.

The primary description of the Coyote Creek's lower 100 square miles of watershed in San Jose is that it is heavily urbanized, hardened by developments, it's riparian corridor encroached upon, and its water quality significantly impaired by storm drainage that carries floatables like plastic bags and packaging and dissolved poisons like automotive fluids or pesticides from landscaping. Many tools have been proposed to help mitigate the flow of these pollutants into local creeks, but none are as effective as restoring wetlands.

The Water District web pages for teachers includes a note about when the native Ohlone lived with the many marshes throughout their range between summer encampments by the rivers and streams, to their hillside habitats where they moved in winter. Farmers in the 19th and 20th centuries filled many of these wetlands, and more wetlands were recently filled by city planners and developers with typical urban buildings and parking structures to accommodate the cars that were primarily employed to move people and products around town. If this were the Bayou, we'd certainly would be up to our collective asses in alligators, but what we mostly have is tons and tons of pollutants flowing in huge seasonal slugs to our all our local creeks and rivers.

Under the provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act, the State Water Boards have been trying to curtail this flow of pollutants from these urbanized watersheds by crafting action plans with groups like the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program. This joint venture of fifteen public agencies, with jurisdiction over watershed lands flowing into South San Francisco Bay, tries to continuously improve the prevention of storm water pollutants from reaching our waterways.

The Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center was created in 1994 through a consent decree settling a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Clean South Bay, a coalition of environmental groups, attempting to prevent further damage to local water resources by addressing the sources of pollution, rather than the more costly approach to removing pollutants after they reached the water bodies. This organization was shuttered by its Board of Directors when the conversations finally reached the root of the problems for watershed pollution: Land Use. The proposed Coyote Valley development became the line in the watershed where the Board members tried to gag me, as the Executive Director of the SV P2 Center, and keep me from discussing the huge impacts this development would have on the groundwater quality. But once released from my contact, the comments embedded above were submitted to the City of San Jose, and hopefully contributed to the withdrawal of that very flawed proposal with its terribly inadequate draft EIR.

When the SVP2 Center was closed in 2004, over $250,000 of funds remained in the bank. Under State law, all assets of a nonprofit must be bequeathed to another nonprofit, rather then being returned to the donors. Since most of these funds had originated from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, they were able to convince the SVP2 Center Board to transfer the remaining assets of the organization to the San Francisco Estuary Institute to conduct a study of the Historical Ecology of the Coyote Creek. This study clearly identified the historic upland wetlands on both the Silver-Thompson Creeks and the Laguna Seca in the Coyote Creek Watershed, the former wetlands partly occupied by a shopping mall, while the later was severely threatened by the Coyote Valley development proposal.

With the recent court ruling nullifying the last parcel tax vote to fund the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the Water District project to restore the Laguna Seca may be the only publicly acquired open space land in Coyote Valley in the near future. That is, unless we can attract enough attention to the problems associated with allowing urban development and enlist the help of a nationwide NGO, like Trust For Public Land, to help acquire the development rights in the Coyote Valley, before a future City Council puts the blinders back on and thinks it's a good idea again.


Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

Thank you, Pat, for your many years of work regarding water issues and your dedication to preventing pollution. It is my hope that Friends of Coyote Creek will devote some time and energy to pursuing solutions to pollution prevention so that we don't always have to be cleaning up trash. Removing rafts of trash does help to keep it out of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean, but it does not even begin to address the petrochemicals and other invisible pollutants. ~Marley Spilman

Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...

Thanks Marley.

There's some good programs at both the county-wide level and at the city.
But taking it down to Neighbor-to-Neighbor, we can have the most impact.