The Pajaro River flood is a world problem. This flood has been written up in the New York Times and the UK Guardian.
The Pajaro River levee was built in 1949. The river begins at San Felipe Lake and travels 30 miles through Watsonville to the Monterey Bay. Its headlands are in the Diablo Range. The river’s levees have flooded in 1955, 1958, 1995, 1998 and 2023. The levees were constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and are maintained by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.
It has long been known that the river’s levee system offers inadequate protection. The towns of Pajaro and Watsonville suffered disastrous flooding. On March 11, the Pajaro River breached the levees, flooding the town of Pajaro during unprecedented atmospheric rivers between Dec. 31 and March 25. This flooding should have been anticipated, knowing the inadequate conditions of the existing levees.
There have been two town meetings held to discuss our concerns regarding the flooding. One at City Hall in March and the other at Ann Soldo Elementary School on May 15.
I was at the May 15 community meeting, and there were a lot of people in attendance, most of them from the Bay Village and Pajaro Village areas. Others were from the Interlaken area and a few from the Pajaro area, but no representation from Monterey County. Many ideas were discussed but few details were given of the design. People want to know if there were soil tests done and if there was any contamination done to the agricultural land.
The Corralitos and Salispuedes Creeks are of most concern and that the cleaning of these creeks are not being completed on a timely basis, which they should be. There are everything from old broken trees to washing machines, to homeless people’s garbage being dumped into these creeks that makes it impossible for the water in the creeks to flow.
The community of Pajaro and City of Watsonville must keep focused on what we have all been through: the heart-wrenching debacle of the citizens of Pajaro, the displaced ones that temporarily lost their homes. The businesses that were flooded out. I can never forget seeing their belongings piled sky-high outside their homes. Most lost everything they owned. Empty homes and businesses and streets covered in mud. Our hearts are with the people of Pajaro and the nightmares they live with.
Future council meetings are scheduled, from June through September of this year. Everyone affected by the flood must be given fair notification and invited to these meetings, including the city council and our representatives in both counties of Santa Cruz and Monterey. We must contact our city council members: Mayor Eduardo Montesino, District 1; Vanessa Quiroz-Carter, District 2; Maria Orozco, District 3. Kristal Salcido, District 4; Casey Clark, District 5; Jimmy Dutra, District 6; and Ari Parker, District 7.
In the future, the City Manager needs to appoint an experienced oversight manager and comittee to oversee activities related to all efforts are carried out in a consistent manner and on a regular basis throughout the process of rebuilding the new Pajaro River levee. The oversight manager would give direction and monitor the process of levee work and its conformity to design plans.
We commend Santa Cruz County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez for all the work he has done for the citizens of Pajaro and Watsonville. Also the councilmembers for all their energy during these trying times of disastrous flooding.
I don’t have an official title, I’m only a Watsonville native, but I know people who went to school and grew up in our town. They care very dearly for our town. I have collaborated with Attorney William M. Samsel, a UC Berkeley grad and my friend. He is very concerned about Watsonville and its future. He is an experienced community organizer and will assist any way he can. Dwight Kuhns, who is an expert on all things water, also wants to get involved in our projects if needed.
I was born in this town and grew up here. I lived through the flood of 1955 and also the other floods and had to evacuate my home with my family, while my father was out in the middle of the night helping to prevent further damage to our town.
This is my town and I believe it’s worth saving from further flood damage by either building a new levee or repairing the existing one from never flooding our town again.
Let’s make the Pajaro River work for us and not damage us.
Bonnie Crosetti Larice is a resident of Watsonville. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.