Approximately 10 miles of local flood control channels were used for shelter by unhoused individuals last year, according to an annual summary report on homeless encampment activity from the Zone 7 Water Agency.
In 2020, encampments were found in nearly a third of the agency's 37-mile flood channels, and 11 cleanup events were conducted at four primary sites. All of the cleanups were held in Livermore, except for one each in Pleasanton and Dublin.
General Manager Valerie Pryor told the Weekly, "A couple of these were citizen complaints but most of them were known encampment sites that Zone 7 and city staff had been coordinating with for a couple of months."
Besides generating trash and debris that "impede flood flows and also have urban stream and water quality issues," Pryor said at the Jan. 6 Board of Directors meeting that some encampments also "dig into channel sides and undermine the structural integrity of the channels."
"We do have to balance the needs of our multiple stakeholders and we are very empathetic to our homeless population, but we do need to maintain water quality and flood channel integrity," Pryor said.
According to staff, Zone 7 flood channels are often used for encampments "due to associated recreational trail usage agreements, proximity to heavily populated areas, relatively easy access to shade and shelter and minimal visibility to the public at large."
The agency's biggest effort in 2020 was cleaning up an encampment in late August along the Arroyo Las Positas in Livermore behind the Autumn Springs Apartments, which took approximately 10 days, and was coordinated with the city of Livermore, Caltrans, and local nonprofit organizations like Open Heart Kitchen, Monthly Miracles and Block by Block.
The week and a half job, which cost $136,806, involved removing 42.1 tons of debris, a 55-gallon drum of potentially infectious sharps, 26 abandoned propane cylinders, and a pallet of electronic waste.
"We coordinate with the local cities and law enforcement when posting eviction notices and providing social services to support the unhoused," said Colter Andersen, production manager for Zone 7. "The majority of these clean up events are just cleaning up debris, they're not actually displacing residents out of our channels."
Eviction notice was given ten days in advance to people camping in the channels. Twelve individuals subsequently received permanent shelter during the course of the clean-up after being connected by CityServe of the Tri-Valley with Alameda County's Safer Ground Hotel Voucher Program.
The area by Autumn Springs Apartments was also cleared by a herd of goats brought in to graze on grasses between 3 to 6 feet tall along the channel, in order to mitigate fire danger.
After the goats finished grazing, a hired contractor removed brush and tree branches in the area. Zone 7 said the work "eliminates ladder fire fuel and keeps the fire on the ground instead of into the tree canopy," and allows for more visibility of the channel area.