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November 12, 2008 > Valley Water Project brings Bay Area one step closer to 550-mile public trail

Valley Water Project brings Bay Area one step closer to 550-mile public trail

On October 25, I had the privilege of attending the Penitencia Creek Ridge Trail Dedication Event. This three mile portion of trail is set to become a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The Bay Area Ridge Trail ultimately will be a 550 mile trail encircling the San Francisco Bay along the ridge tops, open to hikers, equestrians, mountain bicyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts of all types. So far, more than 310 miles of trails have been dedicated for use.

To ensure that the creek is able to carry floodwaters safely, as well as to facilitate the trail connection, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water) joined the City of San Jose and the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department to make some repairs and needed improvements. The joint project became known as the Penitencia Creek Trail Bank-Repair project and resulted in the reconstruction of the creek bank and ultimately the reopening of the trail.

Valley Water was responsible for repairs that stabilized a 400-foot portion of the Penitencia Creek Bank. The sides of the bank walls were constructed with safer sloping angles, while the tops were flattened to create a foundation for the asphalt trail that was later layed by County Parks. The end result was an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally conscious meandering trail through the Berryessa neighborhood.

The project is part of the Clean, Safe Creeks and Natural Flood Protection Plan. Approved by county voters in 2000, the measure created a 15-year program funded by a modest parcel tax to provide more flood-protection along miles of creeks and seeks to improve the health of creek and bay ecosystems and creation of trails and parks for recreational enjoyment.

Before trail reconstruction could begin, Valley Water had to repair a section of the Penitencia Creek bank west of the Valley Transportation Agency (VTA) light rail station on Capitol Avenue, which was eroding away and carrying pieces of the trail and surrounding trees and vegetation into the creek. The crumbling creek bank also threatened steelhead trout, which are protected under federal law. Without the repairs, the trail could have washed away entirely and destroyed the steelhead habitat.

Valley Water is particular about maintaining the integrity of surrounding natural habitats and wildlife at our project sites. To protect this natural habitat, crews were careful to preserve existing trees along the creek bed that had not been destroyed by erosion. Trees that could not be salvaged were removed and recycled back into the creek bed. When strategically placed, they act as natural buffers that divert water flow away from creek banks. Prior to any work on the creek, crews removed fish and wildlife from the project site and relocated them to a safe downstream location.

Construction crews used environmentally friendly building techniques which were incorporated into the Bank-Repair project. Natural wood debris (logs) was placed in the creek to act as "speed bumps" while helping to direct the flow of water. Rocks ranging in size from three-ton boulders to crushed rock were used to stabilize the bank and slow the effects of future erosion.
Often times the details of the work we do goes unnoticed, but events like this trail dedication provide the perfect opportunity to highlight how Valley Water works to improve the quality of life in your community.

Protecting the environment, while improving flood protection is one of Valley Water's top priorities, and I feel a great sense of pride when I see projects like this come to fruition.

To learn more about Valley Water's projects, visit To learn more about the Bay Area Ridge Trail, visit

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for Sunnyvale, Alviso, Milpitas, Berryessa/Alum Rock communities, east of Highway 101 to the Evergreen community area. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

Director Richard Santos
Santa Clara Valley Water District

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