SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Construction has begun on the first phase of the South San Francisco Bay Shoreline Project, a first-of-its-kind effort to battle climate change and protect Santa Clara County from coastal flooding and sea level rise.
"Let's be clear, our world is changing. Global temperature increases have destabilized the atmosphere and are leading to impacts that we never thought possible at this stage in time," said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California Natural Resources. "We have a grave responsibility to take action with urgency and what you see behind me is an example of that action."
Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony kicked off work led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a four-mile section of levees to block floodwater from inundating hundreds of homes and businesses in the Alviso neighborhood as well as Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center and the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility.
When complete, the levee will stand 15 feet tall but will feature a gradual slope to attract wildlife and encourage vegetation growth.
"That provides horizontal space that's usable by species and provides an area where plant life can also exist and so, as water levels rise, instead of having to scramble up a small horizontal distance and a very steep vertical incline, there's a gentle slope. A lot of space is still usable habitat as the water comes up," said Lt. Col. Kevin Arnett, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In addition, 2,900 acres of the former Cargill industrial salt production ponds will be converted back to marshland, which should act as a natural buffer in slowing floodwaters. It will also return the immediate area surrounding Alviso to nearly its original state.
"It's not only going to protect Alviso from flooding but it's also going to bring the best part of the bay right to their doorstep," said Matt Brown, manager at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife.
For Richard Santos, a director on the Valley Water board of directors, the project has personal meaning.
Santos, who was born and raised in Alviso, survived three floods. The most severe was in 1983, which destroyed the homes of his friends and family.
"We lost everything. We had to rebuild and no one gave us loans and I don't want the next generation to ever go through it. I hope they can learn from what we're doing here and be prepared so they don't have to go through it," said Santos.
The levee will extend from Alviso Marina County Park two miles north then turn east, ending at the Artesian Slough. Work can be viewed from the elevated walkways from the park but public access to the trail will be closed.
Phase 1 of the half-billion-dollar project is scheduled for completion by Jan. 2024.
for more features.