Flood prevention efforts see the light of day

Plans include possible detention basins at parks or Phoenix Lake.

Though the sun is shining (at least on this side of the bridge) and the rain hasn't fallen in months, the summer is when officials turn their attention towards ways to prevent devastating floods come winter.

Those plans in Fairfax and San Anselmo include the possibility of expanding the creek, clearing sediment, and building detention basins at places like Phoenix Lake, Memorial Park, or Lefty Gomez Field.

A $645,000 feasibility study by Stetson Engineering will be completed for Flood District 9 – which covers the Ross Valley and Corte Madera watershed – by October and will be presented to the public. The study will be released in parts, with each part expanding on possible creek options.

"We are nearing completion," said Jack Curley, the project engineer for the flood district.

Right now, the flood district is considering the portion of the study about detention basins and talking to property owners about possible places for these basins. Along with Phoenix Lake, Memorial Park, Red Hill Park (which wouldn't be used as a basin until it is renovated in a few years), and Lefty Gomez Field, the district is also considering private properties and meeting with owners.

Detention basins would allow extra run-off to fill the area in times of extreme flooding, such as the flood in December 2005 that destroyed downtown San Anselmo. When water levels are low, the fields would retain their usual purpose.

The flood district is in the process of implementing short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions to the ongoing flooding problem. Measures are being taken to combat both the 100-year events – floods that happen every 100 years, though in recent history have occurred with more frequency – and the regular low-level flooding that happens every few years.

In the long-term, detention basins will be part of an approach that includes enlarging the creek and determining what bridges and culverts need to be changed.

In the short-term, the $645,000 study was part of a $1.2 million budget the board of supervisors extended to the flood district. The remainder of the money was used on an erosion control program to provide direct assistance to private property owners and on fish passage projects with the Friends of Corte Madera Creek.

The towns are also being asked to work on short-term solutions. San Anselmo Councilman Tom McInerney, a member of the Flood Committee, said the committee is being asked to submit short-range projects that can be implemented immediately, such as a creek clean-up effort.

Each of the town's department of public works is being asked to name specific locations that can be cleaned and addressed immediately. The federal Army Corps of Engineers fish ladder project behind the Ross Post Office is also on the list of efforts to be completed soon. Earlier this year all the towns in the Ross Valley signed on to a petition urging the Army Corps to complete the project.

Though some of these projects have been in the works for years and the study itself started nearly a year ago, the recent efforts to prepare for this winter have come in the wake of the controversial flood fee being upheld by the California Supreme Court.

The fee, which was voted on by mail in 2007, had been delayed in courts since then. In the election, over 1,000 ballots were disqualified because the voters failed to sign the outside of the ballot. The per-parcel fee averages $125 and was approved by just a 65-vote margin. Councilman Ford Greene alleged that the election was unconstitutional because it required voters to sign their ballots, but in June the fee was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

"In a way we were on hold," said Curley.

Without the approximately $2.1 million per year for the next 20 years, the district would have had to vastly curtail its plans.

Even with that money, Curley expects that the district will need to raise between 50 and 60 percent of the funds in order to complete all the proposed projects. Staff is looking at federal and state grants, as well as low-interest loans, in order to fund the expansive projects planned in the watershed. In order to go after grants, projects have to be planned and able to be completed within the next 3-5 years. The district has at least two projects that could be ready to go.

This means that although flood prevention is on the horizon, the long-term solutions won't be in place come this winter. Residents will still need to sandbag their doors, watch the creek, and hope for the best.

Visit Marin Watersheds for more information.



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