Creek’s floodwaters cut off Graton residents, spurring emergency repairs

Heavy rainfall this winter has repeatedly made a mess of a highly traveled road near Graton, swelling a creek that officials say needs emergency work to prevent it from closing a key travel route and putting residents and wildlife at additional risk.

As soon as Tuesday, crews will begin repairs on Green Valley Creek near Green Valley Road, clearing vegetation and removing sediment to keep the waterway, a major tributary to the Russian River, in its channel.

The flooded road has forced many nearby residents to drive far out of their way this winter, as record rainfall has hammered many areas of Sonoma County. The swollen creek has charted a new course across the road near a bridge where it used to flow under. County officials will have to spend additional effort fixing the damaged road surface after sediment and vegetation have been removed from the channel. The road was last closed on Thursday.

“We are clearly in an emergency situation here, and I recognize fully that this is a public safety issue,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the area, said at a meeting Friday evening of several dozen neighbors. “I know that you all feel like this has been going on forever, but it is at the top of the priority list right now.”

Hopkins said the creek’s new course also created a dangerous situation for fish, including endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout in the Russian River watershed.

The emergency repair project is being led by the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, the Sonoma County Water Agency and the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department.

Starting next week, Water Agency crews will take out plants and sediment, aiming to make the channel next to Green Valley Road wider and deeper, a process that should take about one week.

When the roadway is clear, county transportation and public works crews can start repairing the pavement. Because the road is covered with water, the county can’t yet tell how long that will take, said Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director.

Residents should not expect the emergency fix to prevent all flooding in the future, said John Green, lead scientist and project manager for the conservation district.

“It’s going to make it better. It’s going to keep more of the water in the creek, and one thing it will do is prevent the water from continuing to flow over the road after the creek goes back down, like it’s doing now,” Green said. “But I don’t think anybody should expect that the flooding is going to go away after this coming week.”

Some residents were worried that because part of the road had been overtaken by water, their homes might be inaccessible in a serious emergency. But emergency responders and officials at the meeting assured them they had appropriate procedures and equipment in place.

Resident Timothy Smith said he has been forced to take roundabout routes getting to and from his home. He estimated returning home from Friday’s meeting at a nearby barn would take 35 minutes instead of about seven. In general, the closure adds an extra 40 minutes round-trip to his daily travels, Smith said.

The resource conservation district has been working on identifying a long-term solution to Green Valley Creek’s flooding, but completion is still years away because of the time necessary for design, permitting and fundraising.

“It’s very frustrating to have such a long time frame on the repair of this thing,” Smith said. “The short term, I think it’s good. I think they’ve come up with a good plan . . . But it’s going to silt up again and clog up again.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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