Homes along San Francisquito Creek may never escape flood zone designation | April 28, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 28, 2023

Homes along San Francisquito Creek may never escape flood zone designation

Creek authority: Efforts to reduce flood risk are proceeding; Newell Bridge renovations are next

by Cameron Rebosio

At a community outreach meeting in Palo Alto on April 20, residents of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto learned that they might never escape FEMA's flood zone designation, prompting further frustration over the flood-protection efforts two decades in the making.

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Posted by SE Hinton
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2023 at 10:48 am

SE Hinton is a registered user.

While researching 19th & early 20th century creek, stream and floodplain maps around San Jose and up the peninsula I realized that, historically, there used to be far more willow trees than seen today, and that areas including "Willow" in their names, such as Willow Glen in San Jose or The WIllows in Menlo Park, just on the other side of San Francisquito Creek from Palo Alto, were floodplain areas which would naturally support willow tree stands or forests. Though not empathically put, Water Board Director Eisenberg may be correct -- short of replacing blocks of creek-adjacent houses with tall levees along the entire San Franscisquito Creek, as is done along parts of the Sacramento RIver for example, protecting housing along the creek in a long-term way is not possible. And though homeowners further from the creek might approve of such an idea, it's unlikely that homeowners directly next to the creek would agree.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 26, 2023 at 4:14 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

This creek starts at a lake on SU proerty with a dam that is over 100 years old.
The Carmel River and Dam in Monterey had the same history, same vintage, same potential to flood the city of Carmel. They took out the dam and reloacated the vast amount of mud, set up side pools for the fish to come up stream. They solved the samr problem that is happening now. Every time I read about this it starts the resolution on PA property instead of at the source on SU property.

What is preventing the fix on this? Take out the dam at the top, let the exisitng water come on down and empty into the bay, then respread the creek so it has side pools for fish. If there is no dam there then the water issue will even out over the summer.

Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 26, 2023 at 6:00 pm

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

Carmel River and San Francisquito Creek are two entirely different hydrologic entities. Removing the dam will do nothing to alleviate the downstream flooding.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2023 at 12:06 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Disagree - much written about why they have not fixed the SU lake - filled with silt and the Carmel River Dam that was reengineered a few years ago, also filled with silt. SU needs to bite the bullet here, take the dam out - after the water level goes down late summer- they are moving water over to Lake Lagunita for the kids to go sailing. Once you get the overall water level down then remove the dam piece by piece and empty the lake to some manageable level. Put in a new partial dam with fish ladders. The creek needs to be reengineered from top to bottom and a real stream for fish will maybe appear if not another drought.

The silt issue is well documented and needs to be resolved at the top of the lake and dam. Just moving the middle and bottom around is not a permanent resolution.

Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2023 at 7:34 am

Norman Beamer is a registered user.

No, Eisenberg is not correct. The current projects re Newell and Chaucer Bridges will protect against the 1996-level of flooding, the largest on record so far. So that in itself will be a tremendous accomplishment. That will not completely protect against 100-year flooding, but to reach that goal it is NOT necessary to have flood walls all along the creek. That protection can be achieved by creating flood retention areas upstream on Stanford land. One possibility is modifying Searsville Dam (not removing it, but rather dredging out the muck and putting in an outlet at the bottom so that during normal times it does not retain water, but during flooding it fills up). Granted, this is a big ask of Stanford, and best case this effort is years away, but it is possible and there is no need to scare people about flood walls, or to argue that nothing can be done.

Posted by SE Hinton
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2023 at 3:21 pm

SE Hinton is a registered user.

There has been a fair amount of work on exploring the Searsville lake dam hydrology. In 2008 there was an academic paper in Ecohydrology, now sadly behind a paywall, "Four 10-year simulation scenarios (pre-dam, early dam, current and post-dam) were considered ..." (

Such work might've led to two environmental 2013 lawsuits which, in turn, led to the proposal to place "a hole" or outlet at the base of the dam. This project continues ( and and is expected to "restore natural water and sediment flows without increasing downstream flood risks ... and allow sediment to be gradually and safely flushed to San Francisquito Creek and ultimately to the bay, restoring the natural sediment process which will enhance natural marsh building along the shoreline."

Note that the outlet is not expected to have a great effect on flooding. In part this is because the lawsuit concerned habitat health, not flooding, and that "Searsville was not built for or intended for flood control," (PA Online 2013 -- -- One small nit - this article managed to miss the 2008 hydrology study.)

To learn more about origin of Searsville lake note that "A handful of creeks feed the little reservoir on the campus, according to Tom Zigterman, director of water resources and civil infrastructure at Stanford. 'There's four or five, depends on where you're doing the counting, but it's a number of creeks that merge right there at that canyon,' he says." (

So even if the lake didn't exist water would flow from 4 or 5 creeks, allowing for a floodplain in which willow trees would grow naturally.

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