Downtown San Jose Loses the Guadalupe River to Drought

Friday, August 14, 2015
Guadalupe River (photo: Jim Gensheimer: San Jose Mercury News)

Wikipedia needs a rewrite. “The Guadalupe River serves as the eastern boundary of the City of Santa Clara and the western boundary of Alviso, and after coursing through San José, it empties into south San Francisco Bay at the Alviso Slough.”

That is no longer an accurate description. At least eight miles of the 14-mile urban river, including a stretch running through the heart of downtown San Jose on its way to the bay, are dry. That has been the case for a couple of months. Beavers, salmon, trout, ducks and other wildlife have died or migrated elsewhere. 

Some of the river is surrounded by parks and those spots that still have water continue to support fish and wildlife. But with reservoirs at 46% capacity in the county because of the drought, a helpful release of water by Santa Clara Valley Water District officials isn’t likely anytime soon.  

That’s a shame. Ten years ago, the city, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the water district finished a $350-million flood control project in San Jose that kicked off what the San Jose Mercury News describes as a “renaissance.” The 250-acre River Park and Garden was developed along the Guadalupe’s banks and its website still recommends that visitors “take a rest at one of the seven Sister City seating areas to simply watch the river flow.”

The river was home to migrating salmon until the 1990s, when newly paved channels, culverts and weirs made it nearly impossible for them to survive in certain parts. The river had flooded 15 times after World War II. Flood control was completed in 2008.

More recent residents are homeless people who established encampments before the river ran dry and, despite crackdowns by San Jose authorities, still live there. That hasn’t deterred the public from using a network of bicycle and hiking trails along the river. One downside of the river’s past popularity was the presence of trash.

But the drought has given local volunteers a chance to collect years of garbage from the dry river bed so that, as Guadalupe River Conservancy Board President Terry Austen told NBC Bay Area, “we'll be more ready when the rain comes. We're looking forward to our El Nino.”       

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Drought: River That Runs Through Downtown San Jose Goes Dry; Fish and Wildlife Suffer (by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News)

A River Runs Dry in California, Despite Successful Water Rationing (by Henry Gass, Christian Science Monitor)

California's Severe Drought Dries Up San Jose's Guadalupe River (by Michelle Roberts, NBC Bay Area)

California Drought Dries Up Guadalupe River Running Through San Jose (by Ted Ranosa, Tech Times)

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