Flooding: Grand Jury Report Released
Flooding: Grand Jury Report Released
May 1st, 2012
“The annual flooding of Pescadero’s main road is “unsafe and unacceptable,” according to a civil grand jury report released yesterday that calls on the county to step in before the fall rainy season to clear out excess silt and vegetation.
For over 25 years the main road into Pescadero has been blocked by the annual flooding of
Butano Creek, jeopardizing public safety and impeding access by public safety officers and
medical responders into and out of the Pescadero community. Why has the County not resolved
this problem and how can it finally be fixed?
The blockage of Pescadero Creek Road, in the unincorporated community of Pescadero, happens
one or more times each rainy season, often for days each time. Flooding jeopardizes the safety of
local citizens in two primary ways: First, alternative routes into the Pescadero area are along
much longer, narrower roadways requiring at least two to three times more driving time from the
coastal highway. In the case of emergencies where the San Mateo County Sheriff, CAL FIRE or
the California Highway Patrol is required, response time is critical and delays can impact
personal safety of citizens and their property. Second, as the road floods, there are always some
individuals who deliberately or inadvertently drive through the flooded road areas, sometimes
successfully, sometimes not. A flooded road impacts local commerce, tourist traffic, and
agribusiness in the area, and often leaves debris and silt to clean up.
The flooding is linked to decades of silt accumulation in the streambed, and excess vegetation
growth and debris build-up along Butano Creek and in Pescadero Marsh. The drainage from the
Marsh into the sea, and associated flushing of silt into the sea, is compromised by natural and
man-made changes. These include logging debris, erosion, run-off, levees and channels built to
facilitate agriculture, as well as certain now-abandoned modifications intended to correct
watershed problems. The bottom line is that rains cannot be contained within Butano Creek’s
banks, resulting in predictable and dangerous road flooding.
The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury recommends the removal of excess silt and clearance of
vegetation overgrowth and debris from as much of the Butano Creek as necessary to eliminate
the road flooding by October 1, 2012, before the 2012/2013 rainy season, using the regulatory
framework of “Emergency” action if necessary.
Since the 1880s, the town of Pescadero, population ~650, has been a farming and ranching
community. The town is located at the upstream (eastern) edge of Pescadero Marsh, at the
confluence of Pescadero and Butano Creeks, both of which empty into the Pacific.
The flooding of the Pescadero Creek Road at the Butano Creek Bridge closes the main route into
and out of Pescadero, while simultaneously inundating privately owned farmlands. The road
closure isolates the town and surrounding areas from its CAL FIRE Station, severely impacting
emergency services. Alternate roads are small and winding through local hills. An ambulance,
fire engine, or police vehicle could require an extra hour or more in transit time. In recent years,
flooding has occurred several times during the rainy season, often for 24-48 hours at a time.
Several sources document the history and complexities of the Pescadero watershed. 1 The cause
of the annual flooding includes progressive silt accumulation and vegetation overgrowth and
debris build-up in Butano Creek up- and down-stream of the Bridge and beyond into the Marsh
itself. Additionally, numerous property owners decades ago created levees and channels in the
marsh for their land-uses, and several projects for the Coastal Highway have modified the
seasonal sand-berm that affects the Butano Creek’s flow from the Marsh to the Ocean. State
regulations enacted beginning in the 1960s have prevented property owners from dredging and
clearing creeks on their property and opening the sand-berm as they had historically done.2
Survey profiles demonstrate the silt build up. (See, Attachment A.) The streambed was ~12 feet
below the bottom of the bridge in 1968.3 Currently the bridge clears the silted creek bottom by
only two feet. The creek has no capacity to handle rainstorm run-off; the water has nowhere to
go but up and over the road.
The California Department of State Parks and Recreation began acquiring Marsh properties in
the 1960s, and in 1993 started to implement extensive modifications to the Marsh area intended
to address and resolve environmental concerns4. Modifications included adding and removing
dikes, adding water-control gates and culverts, and re-contouring certain flow features. The
added features were not maintained, and were subsequently abandoned. The reasons for this
abandonment have not been identified. As a result, silt-up and vegetation overgrowth has
reduced the capacity and impeded the water flow in the Creek. Fish-kills within the Marsh have
also increased; agribusiness has suffered; sport fishing has all but disappeared; and negative
effects on endangered wildlife are being documented.
To read more from this report click here grand-juryflooding to view the pdf.