Rare frogs keep floods comingBy Yunmi Choi
Rubber boots are being hauled out by a group of beleaguered San Bruno residents for what they expect to be yet another water-logged winter, and it's mostly thanks to some endangered red-legged frogs that took over the canal that drains the area.
It's been happening for several years now to the residents of Seventh Avenue -- heavy November rains bring a foot-deep flood down the street and up their driveways. The water often seeps into their homes.
The problem is that the 15-foot-wide Cupids Row Canal -- designed to take the rain water into the San Francisco Bay -- is choked with vegetation. And the county's hands are tied from doing anything about it because of the endangered frogs and snakes living there.
"It's 90 percent filled with growth," said resident Robert Riechel. "What ends up happening is that any water that comes down the canal ends up meeting a dam, then the water gets higher and higher."
County officials are trying to get the necessary permits to go into the trenches and clear out vegetation. But residents are afraid the permits won't come through in time for this winter.
Neil Cullen, San Mateo County public works director, said his staff is still jumping through hoops trying to get the green light from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. For the past four years, the county could not get the permit because it was under the jurisdiction of Bay Area Rapid Transit, which was building an extension to the San Francisco International Airport.
The hope is that the rainy season will come late this year and that the county will be able to wrap up its work in the canal by Oct. 31.
Before it can clean out the vegetation, however, the county must go through a six-week trapping period to remove the snakes. The brush must also be cleared by hand so the operators of the clearing equipment will be able to see clearly and not run over any snakes and frogs.
BART had been building tracks to SFO for the past four years and stopped construction several times at a cost of $1 million for each hiatus because dead snakes were discovered at the site, Cullen said.
About 30 residents in the area are affected every year, Riechel said. Belle Air Elementary School's baseball fields are submerged and the animal pens at the local 4-H also fill up with water, he said.
Since a November series of storms submerged the vulnerable lowlands, Riechel and a group of about a dozen residents have demanded county officials do something about the problem.
The first storm hit on recycling day, so in the morning cardboard and newspapers were floating in the street, Riechel said. That rubbish got clogged in the two city pumps in the area.
Riechel had to wade through that water to get to his car, which he had parked on the other side of the street to keep the insides from getting wet. A few of his neighbors weren't so lucky -- the insides of their cars were soaked.
"We're tired of having water in our front yards or up to our door steps," Riechel said.
The cleaning project will cost about $250,000 and will come from the San Bruno Creek Food Control Zone, which is funded by a combination of property taxes and SFO.
Copyright ©2003 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 09/05/2003.