San Lorenzo Valley Water District digs into nearly $3 million in storm repairs

A mudslide along Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s a mix of immediate and long-term fixes for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District as it continues to struggle with road closures and infrastructure damage in the wake of January’s storms.

Santa Cruz County’s mountain communities bore the brunt of the local damage from January’s storms. Barrages of downed trees, landslides and power outages took their toll on San Lorenzo Valley residents for the better part of the month.

Now, as repairs get underway, San Lorenzo Valley Water District personnel are doing their best to gauge what they can do and when they can do it. The agency provides water and sewer services to more than 30,000 residents in the mountain communities.

Administrative Analyst Carly Blanchard told Lookout that the SLVWD currently estimates about $2.8 million in damages. But district engineering manager Josh Wolff said he hasn’t even started to think about the total cost of the repairs yet: “I’ve been face down in actually getting things back together.”

Wolff said the repairs fall into two categories: One is for things that have to be done right away to maintain public safety — specifically the provision of water — and the other is for repairs that need to happen, but do not pose “immediate safety or operability hazards.”

“Other people worry about gas and electricity and whatever else, but for us, it’s just safety and providing water,” he said. “If it needs to be done to maintain that, we just do it, and apply to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] for reimbursement later.”

The area suffered several water main breaks that required immediate attention. Water mains are arteries that send water through smaller pipes on the way to homes and businesses.

One of those that needed to be repaired is at Huckleberry Island in Brookdale; it’s the main structure to move surface water in and out of Boulder Creek. A stream overflowed on New Year’s Eve, which broke the pipe. Wolff said Scotts Valley-based engineering company Anderson Pacific installed a quick fix, creating a temporary water main to get the system back in operation.

Another major water main break happened in the Riverside Grove neighborhood north of Boulder Creek, but this one was due to a landslide.

“It essentially destroyed it. I mean, it broke in five different places in just a few days,” said Wolff, adding that three homes were cut off from water for a day as a result.

A Lompico booster station — infrastructure designed to increase water pressure — was flooded and shut down for a few days. That didn’t affect water delivery, but did make operating the system more difficult.

“I’ve got to figure out a way to prevent that in the future, but it’s working fine now,” said Wolff. “Right now, I’m doing a lot of ‘OK, what is today’s problem?’”

Damage stacks up quickly, and addressing it incrementally is the best plan of attack, he said.

As Caltrans continues to work on the Highway 9 slide between Upper and Lower Glen Arbor Road, Wolff and others at the water district must determine whether they will need to relocate the water main running through the northbound lane before the road can be restored. At this point, Wolff thinks that will be necessary.

Along with sinkholes, washouts and road damage — some of which has forced Boulder Creek water treatment plant workers to hike a half-mile into work due to inaccessibility — the area has a long way to go before it’s back to pre-storm conditions.