pajaro river levee repair
Heavy equipment operators carve away portions of the Pajaro River levee west of Murphy Road Friday as part of a major repair on three sections of the levee. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

California Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas on Tuesday introduced legislation intended to speed up the $400 million rebuild of the Pajaro River Levee. 

Assembly Bill 876 would expedite the work by exempting certain aspects of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The bill would also weigh the potential impacts of the project against its environmental and socio-economic benefits.

The urgency law would take effect immediately upon being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Winter storms during the first three months of the year caused the levee to break in places, and overtop its banks in others. The town of Pajaro was flooded, as were surrounding agricultural fields. Thousands of people were evacuated.

That was the latest in decades of floods that have devastated the area since the levee was built in 1949, including during the 1990s, which killed multiple people and caused more than $100 million in damage.

“The historic storms and flooding this past March were devastating to the Pajaro community,” Rivas stated in a press release. “These levees need to be upgraded now, urgently, and this allows us to perform critical work on a much faster timeline.”

The upcoming levee upgrade to provide 100-year flood protection to communities along the river could begin as early as next year, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ready to begin construction.

Without AB 876, state approval requirements would push back the start of construction to 2025, at the earliest and extend the duration of the project by years, Rivas’ staff said.

County officials gathered in October 2022 along with state and federal lawmakers to celebrate the funding of the levee rebuild, a process that took decades of wrangling.

The final step in that process was Senate Bill 489, authored by Sen. John Laird to authorize the Department of Water Resources to advance funds to the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project.

Laird said he supports efforts to expedite the review process.

“In 2022, we worked hard to secure levee modernization funding to protect the community of Pajaro,” Laird stated in a press release. “Unfortunately our extreme climate spoke before the project started,” 

This latest action comes on the heels of Newsom’s recent executive order to expedite emergency repairs before next winter’s storms, as well as the provision of $20 million in state funds to help rebuild the community of Pajaro.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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