San Jose

Records Confirm Confusion Between City and Water District Over Flood Levels, Evacuations

A timeline released by the Santa Clara Valley Water District shows confusion on behalf of City of San Jose and water district officials regarding when Coyote Creek would overflow its banks and when it was time to alert residents living nearby.

The records were released in response to a public records request filed by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit for all calls and communications between the water district and the city in the days leading up to the flood.

The timeline confirms the water district struggled to accurately predict how much water flowing over the Anderson Dam into Coyote Creek would flood neighborhoods in San Jose.

A day before the flood, water district notes from communications with the emergency operations center show “wide ranges in uncertainties based on different models.”

And throughout the timeline is proof of those wide ranges: forecasts ranged from 7,000 cubic feet per second all the way up to 9,000 cubic feet per second of water flowing into Coyote Creek.

The district’s version of events shows at 2:55 a.m. on Tuesday, February 21—the day of the flood—the agency’s emergency officials had concluded that “high flows will be reached earlier than expected” and questioned whether San Jose had planned to communicate that information to residents.

But all the uncertainty surrounding the different models from the water district led to inaction. Residents simply weren’t warned until water was already in their homes.

“It’s clear we’ve got to do a lot to improve the communication between the water district and the city,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “And we’re going to fix this.”

In fact, the water district’s timeline shows two days before the actual flood a San Jose Public Information Officer recommended starting evacuations early.

But email records released by the mayor’s office several weeks ago shows a water district government relations representative said the city didn’t have to worry about flood-prone neighborhoods like Rock Springs because, “models don’t predict it will flood until 7,4000 cubic feet per second.”

A terse email response from Mayor Sam Liccardo only hours later says, “Rock Springs started flooding three hours ago. They’re all wrong.”

His staff quickly replied, “The Water Valley grossly overestimated Rock Spring [sic] flood tolerance.”

In fact, the real risk of flooding in Rock Springs was closer to 4,000 cubic feet per second, nearly half the amount of water the previous water district models had predicted.

“The folks in the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) who are making decisions minute by minute about when to warn, when to evacuate and so forth—it is critical that they have the best information,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “At the same time we know that in the fog of war, so to speak, there’s often inaccurate information. We’ve got to figure how we can verify information so people can make the best decisions possible. It’s clear that there was a communication breakdown and we’ve got to fix it. And I intend to get that fixed in the days and weeks ahead."

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