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Cunningham Flood Detention Project

Project background
The Cunningham Flood Detention Project is a $10.7 million flood protection project located in Lake Cunningham Park. The detention facility was originally developed in cooperation with the City of San José in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a joint recreational-flood detention facility. Today, the park site encompasses the city’s park and recreational facilities including Lake Cunningham and Raging Waters, Lower Silver Creek from Cunningham Avenue to Tully Road, and Flint and Ruby creeks from Cunningham Avenue to White Road.

The park is intended to act as a detention area and provide temporary storage of storm flows within the park site. A one-percent flood event would flood most of the park and take approximately six days to drain. The definition of a one-percent flood is a large and rare storm event which has a 1-in-100 (one percent) chance of occurring in any given year.

The Cunningham Flood Detention Facility is located in the Lower Silver Creek Watershed, which is a sub-basin of the Coyote Watershed. Nearly half of the Lower Silver Creek Watershed drains to the park, which then flows into Lower Silver Creek located to the north of the park. In its entirety, Lower Silver Creek flows generally northward from Silver Creek Road at Barberry Lane to Coyote Creek near the U.S. 101 freeway near McKee Road.

Recorded flooding problems within the Lower Silver Creek Watershed include storm events in December 1889, January and March 1911, January 1952, December 1955, April 1958, January 1963, February 1983, March 1983, and close-calls during the February 1998 El Niño. This project, along with the Lower Silver Creek Flood Improvement Project, will remove approximately 3,200 properties located around the park and near Lower Silver Creek between Cunningham Avenue and Coyote Creek, eventually reducing flood insurance premiums for residents and business owners.

Water district staff has completed the planning phase and prepared a Planning Study Report (PSR). The PSR recommended raising the existing levee ranging from 0 to 4 feet high along Capitol Expressway and Cunningham Avenue and adjacent to Lower Silver Creek, as well as constructing a floodwall ranging from 2 to 4 feet high along Cunningham Avenue and Flint Creek. These improvements are necessary to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) freeboard requirements.

The project is currently in the design phase.

 Project goal

  • Ensure the flood detention facility can be FEMA certified, eventually reducing flood insurance premiums for residents and business owners.
  • Ensure the storm flow released from the park into Lower Silver Creek north of Cunningham Avenue can be safely conveyed with adequate freeboard so the Lower Silver Creek Flood Protection Project can be FEMA certified. 
  • Ensure flood improvement measures are compatible with park uses.
  • Ensure the flood detention facility’s Division Safety of Dams jurisdictional status remains non-jurisdictional.
  • Ensure floodwater stored in the park is commensurate with the 1978 planned floodwater surface elevation.
  • Ensure the flood detention facility does function as agreed upon by the City of San José and the water district in 1978—to be a joint recreational and flood detention facility. Update, if necessary, the 1978 Joint Use Agreement between the City of San José and the water district to be consistent with the flood detention facility’s operational condition.


(click to enlarge) 

Aerial view of Cunningham Park. The light blue color indicates areas that will flood in a 100-year storm event according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Project information

Planning completion    

Dec. 2015
Design completionDec. 2017
Construction completionJune 2019
StatusDesign phase

Lake Cunningham 

For more information

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"Cunningham Flood Detention Project".

Past Meeting Notices
Cunningham Flood Detention Project Community Meeting (PDF) Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017
East Valley YMCA