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By Elizabeth Real                        Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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October 12, 2015                     
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Graphic of local sandbag stations
Graphic courtesy of www.valleywater.org


Although California is in a drought, many meteorologists are predicting that El Nino will greatly impact this area. Given the lack of rain in the state, many might be skeptical, but in 1998 and 2012, residents of East Palo Alto were highly impacted by the severe weather. Floods damaged homes and cost the city millions of dollars. In an effort to avoid facing the same issues, the City of East Palo Alto has begun preparing for the rainy season.

"Whether it's 50% or 30% or 80% [chance of El Nino impacting the city of East Palo Alto] it's prudent for all of us to do whatever we can now to reduce the likelihood of any impacts from that event," said Len Matterman, Executive Director San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.

One of the latest discussions regarding emergency preparedness took place during the October 6, 2015 East Palo Alto City Council meeting.

Matterman informed the council of the types of preparations that have been taking place, and he divided the city's preparations into four parts: reducing flood risk by addressing the creek, providing better and earlier flood warnings, communicating with the public about what they can do to prepare themselves, and improving communication and coordination among response agencies.

Many residents might already be aware of the work being done at the San Francisquito Creek, which will replace the East and West Bayshore Road bridges. Local agencies are also working on removing debris from the creek and selectively raising creek banks in areas that have flooded in the past or are at risk of flooding.

After the flood of 1998, a creek monitor website was created to provide early flood warnings; however, this site has lacked a few important items. "We never told people that we think flooding will occur. We just said to them, here's the data, interpret it for yourselves and act accordingly," admitted Matterman.

The website is currently being updated and is expected to be fully up and running this month. The website can be found at sfcjpa.org/floodwarning. "We're letting people know when we think they need to be alert and focused on the potential for flooding and then finally when we think it's actually going to flood," said Matterman of the update.

The update includes the opportunity to sign up for text or email alerts on potential threats to the area. In the event of a flood emergency, residents can submit pictures or alerts to the website of incidents that have not been otherwise reported. For example, if a tree has fallen or there is an area that has been flooded emergency responders can be made aware of it once it's reported on the website.

Residents are encouraged to prepare as much as possible. One of the ways to prepare is by picking up sandbags that will be made available at three different locations. Residents will be allowed to take 10 bags per car. On October 24, a volunteer event will be held at 150 Tara Road from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Volunteers will help fill bags of sand. Questions regarding this event can be answered by calling 650-853-3100.
In speaking for the city, Marie McKenzie, the city's administrative services director, said that she was proud to report that 133 community emergency response team members have been registered and trained. The city is also working with the neighboring communities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

After the presentations were made, East Palo Alto's Mayor Lisa Yarbrough Gauthier said, "We know we've been through a drought, but a storm can come up and we've been affected by floods in the past and it's just good to know that the community will be protected."

Elizabeth Real the author of this article can be reached by email at epatoday@epatoday.org