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September 22, 2023

Guest View: Flooding lessons have not been learned

How quickly we forget. Recent activity centers around the levee system on the Pajaro River. Yet, the first flooding in 2023 was in Watsonville, when the Salsipuedes and Corralitos Creeks overflowed. There are lessons from that flooding that need to be applied to those creeks and the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers. 

The major cause was the buildup of debris in the creek beds. In 1958, Register-Pajaronian editor Frank Orr wrote an editorial that blamed the 1955 and 1958 floods to the buildup of debris in the stream and river beds. Subsequently, many have made the same comment and we have done nothing to fix that problem. 

Debris in the river beds causes eddies that erode the levee banks. Replacing the levees does not remove the cause for the levees to fail in the first place. 

Most of the farmers that I have talked to have expressed their frustration with different organizations preventing them from removing debris adjacent to their farms. The California Fish and Game is the principal organization that stops the farmers. They want to protect the breeding grounds of several endangered species. They neglect to see that the flooding also endangers these same grounds. These species do not breed year-round and it should be possible to clear the stream and river beds during these non-breeding times. 

Farmers in the southern Salinas Valley own the river bed and most clear the debris and have avoided flooding. Fish and Game seems to look the other way in their area. Why? 

In the 1960s, Washington provided funds to rebuild the Pajaro levees. No one seems to know if the two counties received the funds and where did they spend the money. It was not spent on rebuilding the levees. Was there financial oversight, like we have for school district bonds? Obviously not. Why not?

In a different way, county revenue is dominated by agriculture, but few of the tax funds support the farmers. It seems to be spent on where the voters are, in the cities. Shouldn’t our county supervisors be held accountable to support the farming community better? Over the last three years, Monterey County spent one-fifth the amount that Santa Cruz County had on the Pajaro levees. No wonder the failure was on their side of the river. Also, the dirt roads along the levee on the south side made it hard to get to the break and repair it quickly. This increased the damage significantly. 

North of Sacramento this year, they used controlled flood planes to minimize their damage. This would make sense for our area as well.

William Beecher is a resident of Aptos. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.


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