FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 9, 2023
With El Niño Predictions, SFPUC Asks San Franciscans to Prepare for a Wet Rainy Season
A variety of flood resiliency resources are available, including subsidized flood insurance and grants of up to $100,000 to help protect properties from flood damage.
SAN FRANCISCO — Weather forecasters are predicting a ramped-up El Niño climate pattern this winter, which can result in above-normal precipitation. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is reminding residents and businesses to plan ahead and prepare for the wet weather with the many resources the City offers.
“San Francisco is thinking holistically about how we manage increased rainfall, sea level rise, and other challenges from climate change,” said Mayor London Breed. “Severe storms are increasingly becoming part of our everyday life. That’s one of the reasons why we created ClimateSF, which brings together City agencies to take collective action through planning, policy, and guidance. It’s also important for San Franciscans to have resources and tools available to them to ensure they’re prepared. Last year we saw record winter storms that caused significant problems and damage to many in our city and our state. In San Francisco, we are continuing to provide residents and businesses with all the resiliency resources we have available so we can all do our part.”
“We are making major investments in infrastructure to minimize the impacts of increasingly intense storms on our communities,” said SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera. “But the climate is changing faster than infrastructure can be upgraded. When rain falls as hard and as quickly as it did across California during the historic 2022 New Year’s Eve storms, no matter how well any system works, flooding is inevitable. We saw that up and down the state. As climate change produces ever-more powerful storms, we need residents and businesses to partner with us and take steps to protect their properties. We have resources to help, and together we can make a difference.”
The SFPUC is investing $634 million in capital projects in three key low-lying neighborhoods to help reduce the risk of flooding. The first project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The second project is breaking ground this fall, and the third is in the planning phase:
- 15th and Wawona neighborhood: The project started in fall 2021 and is expected to be completed this year. The project included installing a large new sewer pipe under Vicente Street from Wawona Street to 34th Avenue to divert stormwater flow and reduce the risk of flooding; installing new stormwater inlets around the intersection of 15th Avenue and Wawona Street to increase the ability to capture and divert street runoff; and upgrading the water transmission and distribution mains along Vicente and Wawona Streets.
- 17th and Folsom neighborhood: The project is expected to break ground this fall, with completion estimated by mid-2027.
- Lower Alemany neighborhood: The project is in the planning phase.
In addition, the SFPUC’s Wastewater Capital Improvement Program continues investing in the City’s combined sewage and stormwater collection system with:
- $243 million for projects that reduce the volume of stormwater in the SFPUC’s combined collection system (including Yosemite Creek Daylighting, Green Infrastructure Grants, and more)
- $555 million for Collection System Upgrades (to improve and maintain the collection system)
- $54.5 million allocated to this fiscal year's Rehabilitation and Renewal Collection System Upgrades (for repairing high-priority portions of the collection system)
The SFPUC is investing in green infrastructure on the public right-of-way that captures stormwater, slows it down, and allows it to soak into the ground. Examples of green infrastructure include rain gardens, permeable pavement, rainwater harvesting systems, and green roofs. These improvements relieve pressure on the collection system while giving us a greener city. For example, the Sunset Boulevard Greenway project features rain gardens that manage stormwater runoff from 14 blocks of Sunset Boulevard and 37th Avenue. Another green infrastructure project currently in final design will replicate the historic Yosemite Creek in McLaren Park and manage flows from 110 acres.
The SFPUC’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program, launched in 2019, has awarded 20 properties with a total of $20 million. Once complete, these projects will divert nearly 13 million gallons of stormwater from the collection system each year – enough to fill more than 19 Olympic-size swimming pools. Recent awardees include public schools, arts organizations, and San Francisco parks.
With the pace of climate change, extreme and heavy rains are increasingly becoming part of life. Improvements to the network of drains and pipes are underway, but increasing flood resilience cannot depend solely on collection systems.
The New Year’s Eve storm, for example, was long and intense. To put that storm in perspective, over a 10-day period San Francisco experienced more than 11 inches of rain, which is about 50% of the average annual rainfall. That included a particularly intense stretch where 5.5 inches fell in a single 24-hour period. No sewer or stormwater system can reasonably manage that intensity, amount, and duration of rain. Building pipes, pump stations and storage vaults large enough to prevent flooding in extremely large storms is infeasible.
Improved stormwater resilience relies on a multi-pronged approach. That includes designing the surface of our city to be more flood resilient. As a city, we need to be thoughtful about what we build, where we build it, and how we build it. That is why the SFPUC is working with partner agencies to propose a flood-resilient building code and strategies for flood-resilient design.
Resources for San Franciscans
Another key aspect is residents and property owners contributing to flood resiliency.
The SFPUC encourages both residential and commercial property owners to sign up for flood insurance. San Francisco is a member of the National Flood Insurance Program, which subsidizes flood insurance, bringing down the cost of insurance premiums and covering flood damage to buildings and building contents.
The SFPUC also urges property owners who have previously experienced damage due to heavy rains to take advantage of the Floodwater Grant Program, which can provide eligible residential and commercial property owners up to $100,000 for implementing flood resiliency projects on their properties. Examples of projects eligible for funding include backwater valves, flood barriers on doorsteps or driveways, water-resistant seals, sump pumps, and regrading driveways, building openings, or other property-specific improvements to reduce the risk of damage from flooding.
Backwater valves are a highly effective, low-maintenance property improvement to help prevent or minimize sewage backups inside properties during rain events. Details on this and other resources can be found at sfpuc.org/rainreadysf.
The SFPUC has invested $20 million to date, and is investing about $10 million a year going forward, for green infrastructure grants for large properties so that schools, arts organizations, health care facilities and others can green their properties and make them rain ready. Information on how to apply can be found at: sfpuc.org/gigrant.
The SFPUC is also piloting a program for green infrastructure grants for residential properties and plans to expand that in the future.
Anyone who has green infrastructure on their property can apply for a reduction in the stormwater flow component of the sewer portion of their bill. More info can be found at stormwater.sfpuc.org.
Residents and businesses can also pick up free sandbags from Public Works’ yard at 2323 Cesar Chavez (entrance at Kansas & Marin Streets). More information is available at sfpublicworks.org/sandbags.
The SFPUC closely monitors every storm as it approaches San Francisco and works to deploy crews and equipment across the City to clear catch basins, particularly in low-lying areas, in anticipation of heavy rain. During storms with heavy rain, the SFPUC dispatches crews across the City to monitor low lying areas and to use both hand tools and mechanical equipment to alleviate localized flooding when possible.
Multiple City departments partner together to prepare for and respond to storms. For example, San Francisco Public Works contributes with tree trimming, storm drain clearing, and sandbag procurement and deployment. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management helps coordinate storm preparation and response to support residents and businesses throughout San Francisco.
“The City is ready for the rainy season, but it is vital that we all do what we can at home to be ready for severe storm impacts,” said San Francisco Department of Emergency Management Executive Director Mary Ellen Carroll. “Before the next storm, check your supplies and make sure you have what you need on hand. Check on friends and family who may need assistance preparing for the storm, especially the elderly, homebound, or neighbors with disabilities, and sign up for AlertSF by texting your ZIP Code to 888-777 to receive real-time emergency alerts. Visit www.sf72.org to learn more.”
"We have a good supply of sandbags on hand at our Operations Yard for residents whose properties are prone to flooding during storms,” said San Francisco Public Works Director Carla Short. “We also encourage folks to sweep up leaves and litter in front of their homes and businesses before the rains start to keep them from clogging the storm drains during wet weather.”
The SFPUC’s Adopt-a-Drain and Rain Guardians programs gives San Franciscans opportunities to “adopt” one of the City’s 25,000 drains (or catch-basins) or rain gardens with the pledge that they will clean and maintain the assets to reduce the risk of flooding.
The City reminds everyone to contact 311 at www.sf311.org, or by calling 3-1-1 to report issues such as localized flooding, clogged storm drains, sewage backups, or wastewater odors.
About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and meets over 70 percent of the electricity demand in San Francisco. Our mission is to provide our customers with high-quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at www.sfpuc.org.