Where the River Came Last
In San Jose, landscape architects were hired to do downtown flood control. The rest is history.
By Lisa Owens Viani
Lisa Owens Viani
Larry Johmann and I watch as a long-armed excavator drops buckets of rock into
terraced concrete steps along Contract Reach 3 of the Guadalupe River Flood
Control Project. Contract Reach 3 is the last stretch of a costly—$234.6 million
so far—and controversial project designed to protect downtown San Jose from
100-year floods. Begun in the early 1990s and to be completed this winter,
the project was derailed in the mid-1990s when environmental groups rose up
against the plan for the river—a plan originally designed by San Francisco’s
Hargreaves Associates, adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and later
added to by a succession of other landscape architecture firms.
Johmann, a civil engineer, canoeist, and director of the Guadalupe Coyote Resource
Conservation District, and I are standing on the Coleman Avenue overpass in
downtown San Jose looking north, or upstream, where we can see the river coming
out of its twin underground bypass culverts. The river channel is a mass of
concrete and gabions, from the low-flow channel cut by the Corps to the top
of the bank. Johmann shakes his head and says, “This project was done without
any thought to river form and function. Absolutely none.”
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