Information on the February 14th, 2019, storm damage at Highway 37 and Novato Creek

Patrick Echols, Director, Public Works

February 14 Storm Damage at Highway 37 and Novato Creek

The County of Marin is among several agencies assessing storm-related damage that took place February 14 in the baylands of eastern Novato, directly south of Highway 37. Engineers and other personnel from the agencies listed below are analyzing embankments and levees with a goal of mitigating stormwater effects on the nearby properties and roadways, including Highway 37.

Agencies involved in the matter include the County of Marin, the Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), the City of Novato, the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Novato Fire Protection District, the Novato Sanitary District, the North Coast Railroad Authority, Northwestern Pacific Railroad and Marin-Sonoma Mosquito & Vector Control District. Caltrans has jurisdiction over Highway 37 and SMART has jurisdiction over the railway and land that runs along the south side of the highway. The impacted railway is for freight trains and runs east-west parallel to Highway 37. This is distinct from primary SMART commuter tracks, which are not impacted by this situation.

The situation is complex and requires the ongoing coordination of the previously mentioned stakeholders. The flood water needs to recede out to San Pablo Bay before the full extent of the damage, and any potential fix, can be accurately determined. It may take an extended amount of time to fully address the issue. During the assessment period, all efforts will be made to assist Caltrans in keeping Highway 37 operational.

Here are facts as of February 15, 2019, from Marin County Department of Public Works and Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation District:

  • On February 14, stormwater exceeded the capacity of Novato Creek where it passes under Highway 37. The force of that stormwater broke through the embankment and levee on the section of land owned by SMART, located immediately along the south side of Highway 37. The flooding in the surrounding area stems from the damage at that intersection.
  • Since 1974, the Novato Sanitary District has leased the fields east of Highway 37 and northeast of Novato Creek from the Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation District. These are the lands that are currently flooded by stormwater from the February 13-14 storm.
  • There are two pump stations in the fields directly on the south side of Highway 37. One is a Novato Sanitary District facility containing three pumps. The other is Flood Control & Water Conservation District facility containing one pump.
  • In 2017, the Flood Control & Water Conservation District and the Novato Flood Control District entered an agreement to utilize the Novato Sanitary District pump station as the primary pump station for that area. The Flood Control & Water Conservation District pump station is a backup/auxiliary pump station for the area.
  • Both of those pump stations are designed to pump rainwater from the fields on the north and south side of Highway 37 into Novato Creek. Once the rainwater is pumped into the Creek, it naturally flows out to San Pablo Bay.
  • Neither of the pump stations are designed/intended to handle tidal stormwater surges or creek water in the surrounding fields, such as those experienced in the February 13-14 storm. This is especially the case when the tides are exacerbated by the storm’s intense rains.
  • Historically, due to the unique geography of the Novato Watershed, tidal surges for Novato Creek are slow to drain out to San Pablo Bay and tend to linger in the creek, sometimes keeping creek levels elevated for extended periods of time. This fact may extend the time it takes for the involved agencies to fully assess the situation and plan for improvements.

Saturday, February 16, 2019, update:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019, update:

  • At today’s Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Resolution was ratified declaring the February 13-14 storm a Local Emergency for Marin County.
  • The Marin County Department of Public Works and the Marin County Flood Control & Water Conservation District have already completed a temporary fix of the breached levee on SMART-owned land that contributed to the flooding of Highway 37.
  • The next stage of work has been handed over to the North Coast Railroad Authority, which leases the freight train tracks from SMART. The Railroad Authority will repair the embankment and levee infrastructure on SMART’s land.
  • In the meantime, Caltrans is working on reopening Highway 37 as soon as possible, potentially tomorrow. A permanent solution to the Highway 37 flooding issue is still being determined by the stakeholder agencies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019, update:

  • Caltrans reopened Highway 37 this morning, following the completion of temporary mitigation measures. Stakeholder agencies will continue to develop strategies/plans for a permanent solution to the Highway 37 flooding issue.

Highway 37 closure following the February 26/27 storm:

  • Highway 37 was closed again, this time in both directions, due to flooding from the February 26/27 storm.
  • The new closure is at a different section of the highway than the damage sustained during the February 13/14 storm.
  • Caltrans' District 4 and CHP-Marin will be providing updates to the new flooding situation on Highway 37 as it becomes available:

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