There are signs of the wet winter visible everywhere in Pleasanton, from the tarps and bulldozers drivers on Interstate 680 can see along the Arroyo de la Laguna to the sandbags and signage warning of flooding on Foothill Road, still out in case they're needed again.
But the impacts of this year's record rainy season are being seen and felt perhaps most starkly in Verona Reach, a swath of Pleasanton along the Arroyo de la Laguna between the Castlewood Drive bridge and Verona Road bridge where several property owners have experienced erosion in their backyards over the past few months.
Among them are the Belshe and Raun families, next-door neighbors in the 7800 block of Foothill Road who say they're in a race against time to save their homes -- a scenario they believe could have been avoided.
They will seek help from Zone 7 Water Agency this Wednesday as its board of directors considers resolutions that would provide affected homeowners with some financial assistance for emergency repairs.
"It's clearly their responsibility," says Dave Raun. "(Zone 7) shouldn't have let this happen."
Significant storms this winter have caused flooding, erosion and mudslides throughout the Tri-Valley and California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown and President Donald Trump to issue state of emergency and disaster declarations to free up funding for recovery.
Locally, storms have caused millions in damages to stream banks, representatives of Zone 7 Water Agency recently reported.
The heavy rain began taking its toll on the Foothill families' backyards last month as chunks of dirt, grass and vegetation started to fall into the creek below.
Homeowner Dave Raun estimates that in the last few weeks, his backyard has lost 20 feet and the Belshe's 40 feet.
On Friday, he and his wife Lori surveyed the creek from their backyard, which Dave called "the war zone."
The fast-moving creek has pounded against the slope, eroding the ground away and taking with it several trees the Rauns planted to help protect the slope when they moved in 20 years ago.
Now the slope is a cliff, with foreboding cracks in the ground not far from the edge.
At the Belshes' backyard, a pool sits mere feet from the edge of the slope, surrounded by caution tape. Sprinkler lines dangle limply over the creek, and a trampoline teeters close to falling in.
"If we get no rain, (the edge) will probably be at their pool within two to three weeks," Dave Raun said Friday. "If we get rain, probably the first time it rains."
Over the last two decades, the Rauns have watched a slope across the creek deteriorate, recalling rainy nights where a large chunk of dirt would fall and cause their house to shake.
They say development upstream over time has taxed and reshaped the creek, creating an s-turn that propelled water toward the Raun's and their neighbors' properties instead of going by them.
"The s-turn made it a firehouse shooting right at us," Raun said.
Now, the Raun's and their neighbors are weighing their options and reaching out to local agencies for support.
The situation is complicated by the fact that this part of the creek within Verona Reach is owned by the residents themselves. Zone 7 owns and maintains about a third of the Tri-Valley's channels and creeks as part of its flood management work, but not this particular area, according to general manager Jill Duerig.
But Zone 7 has an easement over nine parcels, including the Raun and Belshe properties, which gives them the right to "construct, maintain, operate, inspect, and repair flood control facilities and appurtenances." To date, the agency has never undertaken any projects in that area, Duerig said.
To Eddie Belshe, one of the affected homeowners, the easement shows that Zone 7 is responsible for what's occurred.
"They are responsible for this issue and the overall maintenance of the watershed," Belshe said in an email Monday. "In no way do I feel this is an 'act of God,' and it's frustrating to read such comments being made. From my perspective there is no question that part of Zone 7's charter and existence is to prevent and fix issues such as this."
"What I want is the immediate repairs to protect our homes and restore the bank, and a long-term solution for all homeowners so that nobody ever has to go through this ordeal," he added.
Duerig said Friday that although the easement gives Zone 7 the right to maintain and repair flood control facilities within the area, it also does not expressly bar homeowners from doing the same.
"Neighbors of theirs were doing work to reinforce their banks," Duerig said. "I think residents would be disingenuous to say they thought they weren't allowed to do anything."
Asked about development as a potential cause of the creek's reconfiguring, Duerig said it was "a hypothesis that needs to be tested."
"We'd have to look at a ton of stuff -- what's happening in the area, what's happening upstream, whether it was an act of God because it was one of those winters where everything was giving away," she said.
In the meantime, the agency's board will weigh a formal response Wednesday night.
The board will consider two options for helping homeowners. The first would be to establish a local emergency grant program for Verona Reach that "could focus on construction improvements and improvement of the bank stability."
Zone 7 started a similar pilot assistance program for Verona Reach landowners in 2010 to educate them about grant opportunities to abate erosion and flooding concerns, according to a staff report.
As part of that effort, Zone 7 sought support on a preliminary design for laying back the existing slopes and providing toe-of-slope protection in the area. But the majority of landowners weren't interested in moving forward because laying back the slope would significantly reduce their usable land, according to Zone 7.
The Zone 7 board will also consider making the agency a local sponsor for federal funding for repairs available through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
That program offers immediate financial assistance when life or property could be threatened by flooding and erosion. However, it requires a local agency sponsor to request assistance on the landowner's behalf.
Although the program can provide up to 75% of construction costs, all other costs must be covered by the local sponsor or landowner, including ongoing maintenance. Some of these costs could be reimbursed, but there is no guarantee, according to Zone 7 staff.
If Zone 7 became the local sponsor, it would amend existing design and construction contracts to incorporate spending $1.7 million for temporary emergency repairs to the slope fronting the Belshe and Raun properties. Up to $690,000 could be reimbursed through the federal program.
Should Zone 7 not become the local sponsor, the only other agency that could is the city of Pleasanton, according to Duerig. City engineer Steve Kirkpatrick has not responded to requests for comment on the matter.
Assuming a local sponsor would be found between the two, Zone 7 staff has begun seeking permits for emergency repairs from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The temporary fix would likely consist of dumping large rocks, known as riprap, at the bottom of the cliff to protect it against onrushing water, Duerig said.
But before the Army Corps will grant the needed permits, it is asking for more information that Zone 7 consultants are gathering through surveying. Duerig says it's hard to predict how long the process could take.
"Part of the Army Corps' job is to make sure they don't approve an emergency project that's going to cause damage elsewhere," she said.
Even if a temporary fix is implemented, Zone 7 anticipates the Army Corps would require it to eventually be replaced with a more permanent solution. Should that be the case, the project could cost as much as $5 million.
Moreover, an additional larger solution could be required for the Verona Reach to try to straighten out the creek, which could cost in excess of $10 million on top of the $5 million for the more localized work, according to Zone 7 staff.
Meanwhile, Dave Raun is hoping for a positive outcome. He's concerned that another storm could condemn his home and his neighbors', and his homeowner's insurance does not cover this type of situation.
"I'm hoping these government agencies that we pay all this money to take ownership of this," he said. "If they don't do anything, we can't do anything. We'll have to sit and watch our homes go away."
While it weighs aid for Pleasanton homeowners impacted by recent storms, the board will also be asked Wednesday to declare a local state of flood emergency within the Zone 7 service area. That would allow Zone 7 to seek financial assistance from the state for recovery efforts.
Wednesday's Zone 7 board meeting will get underway at 7 p.m. in the agency's administration building at 100 North Canyons Parkway in Livermore.