Santa Cruz County residents are no stranger to powerful and dangerous natural disasters, including winter storms with lasting impacts on our community.
The Santa Cruz County Department of Community Development & Infrastructure (CDI) knows that even as we continue to pick ourselves up after last winter’s historic storms, we face another potentially long winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting a strong El Niño will remain in place through the spring, which often brings significant rainfall to our region.
CDI has made substantial investments in flood prevention measures throughout the County. We are also focusing on reducing flood risk on our side of the Pajaro River, including preventing any breaches of the aging levee that protects Watsonville and surrounding communities.
Following last winter, our drainage crews walked creekbeds throughout the county, clearing large logjams and overgrown vegetation to help reduce flood risk. We dredged Corralitos Creek and Coward Creek to restore capacity. We’ve lined several major culverts with piping to prevent failure. We are raising Spring Valley Road to help prevent residents there from being trapped by flooding.
Key completed preparations include sand and bag deliveries to countywide locations. Not only do we have sandbags for County use, we deliver them to the community at no cost. For a complete list of pickup locations, visit dpw.santacruzcounty.us.
With our winter watch underway as of Oct. 15, our ongoing work includes winter patrols on County roads to clear drainage ditches and flush culverts, and re-evaluating pending storm damage sites to make sure they will survive the winter until a full repair can be completed.
We are also training additional dispatch personnel for after-hours and emergency response and working with staff and outside contractors to assure they are available to help restore roads during emergencies. Our work with partner agencies is also important, and we have acquired flood fighting kits from the Department of Water Resources, as well as 230 feet of flood-preventing “Muscle Wall”—providing temporary protection along the levee.
Our work along the Pajaro River includes routine maintenance and ongoing inspections, as well as multiple erosion repairs and compaction of long stretches of the earthen levee to help reinforce its strength and integrity. When it comes to flood prevention, no partner is more important than the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, and our shared goal is to preserve this levee until work on the $400 million replacement is complete.
While any flooding impacts the entire Pajaro Valley, we have prevented breaches on our side of the river through emergency flood fights, both in 2017 and last winter, when we reinforced the levee to protect the Watsonville Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Santa Cruz County is primed for the challenges of the upcoming winter, and with National Flood Preparedness Week (Oct. 21-28) upon us, we are sharing efforts—completed, underway and upcoming—to reduce the flood risk and remind residents to have an emergency preparedness plan, including putting together a plan for your family and pets should an evacuation be necessary.
• Be Aware: Learn whether your home is in a flood zone, stay tuned on weather forecasts and listen to local authorities. You can find out if your home is in a flood zone on the FEMA website: bit.ly/fema-flood-zone. Residents should sign up for CruzAware: bit.ly/CruzAware, the emergency and non-emergency alert and warning system for Santa Cruz County.
• Be Prepared: Have an emergency evacuation kit ready. This includes accounting for critical documents, having an evacuation plan and knowing where you will evacuate. Learn how to make a plan on the FEMA website: bit.ly/FemaPlan.
• Take Action: Evacuate when authorities advise you to. Consider purchasing flood insurance if you’re living in a flood-prone area.
Santa Cruz County is well-prepared for the challenges of the upcoming winter, emphasizing the importance of residents being equally prepared.
Matt Machado is director of the County of Santa Cruz Department of Community Development & Infrastructure. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.