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Region prepares for a wet January


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Umbrellas were the order of the day on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View Jan. 4, below. The National Weather Service announced a flood advisory for coastal communities and the greater Bay Area through noon Thursday. Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier

A major rainstorm finally hit Los Altos and surrounding areas last week, replenishing water supplies after years of drought that led to dead grass and conservation mandates.

The storm, which the National Weather Service called a “once-in-10-year event,” drenched the Peninsula. Santa Clara Valley Water District officials, however, said they were prepared.

“As of Jan. 4, we may have in the order of 3 inches (of rain) in the valley and up to 10 inches in the Santa Cruz hills,” said Garth Hall, the water district’s deputy operating officer. “That range can change dramatically.”

Sue Tippets, water district engineering manager, described contingencies the district has in place.

“We have the emergency operations center in a monitoring mode,” she said. “We will be watching rainfall and how the storm tracks so that we can attend to our hot spots.”

Monitoring mode, which Tippets defined as collaborating with county emergency management staff to provide them with intelligence, enables police and fire departments to deploy where needed.

The Los Altos Police Department set up a sandbag station at the city’s maintenance center and recommended that residents secure outdoor items that could be blown or washed away.

“This is a whopper this weekend,” said water district spokesman Marty Grimes ahead of last weekend’s downpour. “There is some percentage of rain for the next 10 days.”

With short-term management under control, water district officials are taking stock of how the sudden bounty of rain will affect water management in the coming year. Los Altos has been under drought regulations for the past several years.

Those conservation requirements will not evaporate right away, according to district officials.

Hall said the increased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will lead to greater water reserves in cities like Los Altos, but there are competing interests authorities must weigh.

“Even when we have full reservoirs, state and federal regulators focus on endangered species,” Hall said. “The state has already said that we would get 45 percent of our normal full allocation, which is about the same as we had last year. They may change that, and probably will change that, as conditions change.”

Hall added that the water district will not know about federal guidelines until late February.

District officials are optimistic that the rain will mean higher reservoir levels and no algae problems like they faced last summer.

“In 2016, we struggled a lot with (algae) because the water levels were low,” Hall said. “This coming summer, we hopefully do not have a repeat on that. But there are factors other than the snowpack.”

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