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August 17, 2022

Federal funds will advance Pajaro River Levee project

SALINAS—The  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved more than $2.8 million in funding for the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project, Congressman Jimmy Panetta announced Tuesday.

The funding will be used to complete the preconstruction, engineering, and design (PED) phase of the project in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, Panetta said, adding that the money came thanks to “extensive Congressional efforts,” that will help ensure the safety of communities that live near the levee.

 “It’s nowhere near finished and it’s been a slog to move the project forward, but this funding for the completion of the PED is a huge step in the right direction,” Panetta stated in a press release. “Today’s announcement is a result of the honest and trustworthy partnerships that we have developed with local leaders and national agencies, as well as our consistent communication, constant work, and continued focus on the goal of providing 100-year flood protection to economically disadvantaged and agricultural communities like Watsonville and Pajaro on the Pajaro River.”

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend said that securing the funding is a “major step” in improving safety for the low-income communities that would be affected if the levee fails. 

 “Our state, local, and federal leaders are pushing daily to elevate the voices of those who simply want flood protection yet have had to bear an outsized burden of vulnerability for over 50 years,” Friend said.

Attempts to upgrade the system date back decades. Built in 1949, the levee breached and caused flooding in 1955, 1958, 1995 and most recently in 1998, when Pajaro was severely damaged and acres of cropland were destroyed.

 The March 1995 flood caused more than $95 million in damage to the city and to 3,300 acres of agricultural land and forced evacuation of hundreds of families.

The Pajaro River Flood Risk Reduction Project was authorized by the federal Flood Control Act of 1966, and local leaders have been working with the Army Corps since then to secure the authority for construction.  In 2019, Panetta secured a final feasibility report for the Project. 

The Director’s Report was the milestone that finally allowed the Project to enter into its PED phase, which made it eligible for federal funding, Panetta said. 

In 2020, Congressman Panetta secured $1,800,000 for the Project and has been actively engaged in tracking the usage of these funds. 

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