OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
I can only take a minute because I’m still dodging falling trees, but I wanted to share some thoughts about what we just went through in the recent storms. In a way, it’s nothing those of us who live here didn’t already know: We Have An Infrastructure Deficit. It is both physical and fiscal. But this storm might have a couple of silver linings (it certainly had the clouds):
1. We might actually get some funding, and
2. We might wake up and assess and begin to redesign and rebuild our infrastructure in the face of a recurring reality.
Images: Click to enlarge for improved readability in a new window.
To paraphrase Ray Mueller last night “Never let a good disaster go to waste”. Ray mentioned CRISP, the concept of a Coastside Resilient Infrastructure Strategic Plan. We need it badly.
There is much more to say, but let me skip a detailed recounting of problems far too numerous to list here, and let me postpone a causal analysis (but drop some hints) until more research and data have accumulated – those can be covered in a future column(s). For now, let’s just hit the highlights of what happened and the implications thereof. Below is a short slide show I presented at the MCC last night (Jan. 18th). The videos won’t play but the main observations are clear: We couldn’t handle the winds and stormwater. Our roads, sewer, electrical, internet, and emergency communications all failed at times (as well as many gates and fences, utility poles, trees, etc.). We suffered millions of dollars in damages. As Ray pointed out last night, we need to REPORT and QUANTIFY those damages to get the rest of the FEMA funding we did NOT so far qualify for. Stay tuned for how and where to do that. NOTE: email received tonight provides this link: https://www.smcgov.org/ceo/damages-resulting-disasters-survey and instructions which can be viewed here.
By a happy coincidence, some of the pictures and videos I showed last night – supplied by residents from Pacifica to HMB – were MIS-DATED. That was pointed out by a local resident, and I’m glad he did. Some videos were from storms in 2017. Some from 2021. This Has Happened Before. So, while the County may report this as the worst storm in over 100 years, and while that might be true, the underlying truth is that this happens FREQUENTLY here. Quarry Park had more flooding in March, 2017. The Sewer IPS blew out then as well. Pacifica had a 3 million gallon Linda Mar spill on Oct. 25, 2021. The SAM plant overflowed LAST YEAR on Dec. 13-14, 2021. Last August, Montara Water and Sanitary District put out a report with half a dozen storms with 6 to 8 inches of rain listed. We cannot treat this as an unusual event; storms like this need to be included in planning for and sustaining our civilization here.
Perhaps the most costly damage was, and will be, to the Sewer Authority Midcoastside. Their initial report on the disaster is available here, and I’ve posted two screenshots from that report here. The top graph shows the amazing jump in the flows in Pilarcitos creek, but it’s a LOG scale graph, and I highlighted in red boxes that while the vertical distance from 20 to 200 to 2000 is the same, the actual flows are TEN TIMES higher in each increment. The graph at left are the inflows measured at SAM, until the instrumentation lost the ability to track flows at about 17 mgd (Note: the design capacity of the plant is only 15mgd for a one hour peak). Two immediate questions come to mind: 1) Given that the plant ALSO overflowed on 12/13-14/2021 as well, why haven’t we figured out how to prevent this? and 2) Why was the inflow at SAM spiking so suddenly? One would have expected a gradual increase in flooding, a ramp-up. But what we see on Dec. 31 at about 8am is a SUDDEN jump, to levels that couldn’t be recorded. We’ll continue to track this issue, and the potential tens of millions of dollars in damage and fines, and write more later.
As to What Now? I refer you to slides 12-14 in the presentation below. At first blush, those are the things we need to fix. I welcome your thoughts in addition. We’ll revisit these issues in the weeks and months to come.
Here is the 13 slide show from the MCC meeting last night:2023-01-18_StormRelatedIssues
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is Chair of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.