Work Begins on Llagas Flood Project

Project extends from Gilroy to Morgan Hill
Morgan Hill – Work on the long-awaited Upper Llagas Flood Control project has begun, thanks to a cost-sharing agreement between the city of Morgan Hill and Santa Clara Water District officials.

The project, which has been in the works for 50 years, will eventually include enlarging Llagas Creek and its offshoot, the Little Llagas, and constructing a diversion channel between them to provide protection from wide-spread flooding in downtown Morgan Hill.

The city sits on what is known as a 100-year flood plain – meaning there’s a 1 percent chance each year a major flood could put the city under water. A 100-year flood would damage an estimated 1,600 homes and businesses to the tune of $8 million. In an average year, flooding costs about $900,000.

Although the geotechnical investigation underway is only the preliminary stage of the project it is hailed by Morgan Hill and SCVWD officials as “good news and a good start.”

The investigation and other preliminary work will cost $700,000, with the city and SCVWD sharing the cost equally. Both the city and SCVWD hope the geotechnical investigation will prove to the federal government the $95-million project is worth the expense.

“The project has been a very long and difficult process, but the federal government has not been willing to fund it and we need to move forward in order to keep the project moving,” Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy said.

Workers will drill 140 holes to the depth of 35 to 45 feet along the creek, taking soil samples and testing it for various engineering properties to determine how much it can bear in weight and how much it might settle. The tests are necessary in order to prepare and base the design for new levees and channel slopes, culverts and flood walls, according to Dan Peluso of Pacific Geotechnical Engineering. The project and its large drilling rig will pass through downtown Morgan Hill in about two weeks, Peluso said.

With a total drainage area of 1,204 square miles, the project extends about 16.6 miles from the Pajaro River south of Bloomfield Road in Gilroy upstream to just beyond Wright Avenue in Morgan Hill.

The project will provide a 100-year level of flood protection in the urban areas of Morgan Hill, Gilroy and about a 10-year level of flood protection in the agricultural areas. The project will also provide measures to reduce erosion, and will include replacing more than 35 bridges and culverts at road crossings.

Work on the Lower Llagas Creek portion, which extends from the Pajaro River to Buena Vista Avenue in San Martin, was completed in 1996 at a cost of $52.6 million. But work on the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project was stalled indefinitely because of the lack of funds.

Councilman Greg Sellers, who has been concerned about the project’s delay, said he is pleased the preliminary steps are being taken, but overall, he is disappointed in Congress’ inaction through the years and what he described as the federal government’s “misplaced priorities.”

“I’m disappointed to see it taking a lot of time,” he said. “It’s a commitment they should have fulfilled a long time ago.”

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