By ZACH FRIEND and GREG CAPUT, Santa Cruz County Supervisors
As we move into the rainy season, we know that many share our concerns about the Pajaro River and the stability of the levee system. The Pajaro River has one of the lowest levels of flood protection of any federally funded project in the United States and has been providing inadequate protection to Watsonville, the Town of Pajaro and the surrounding communities for decades.
Many residents have been rightfully frustrated by a lack of urgency from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal funding partners. But recent advocacy efforts have led to significant progress, and we believe has put us closer to making a new levee project a reality than we have been since it was constructed.
Led by a strong team in the flood control district (consisting of county and city staff as well as local electeds), we’ve moved toward a date of completing the feasibility stage — which would lead us to a design and construction phase. Completing the feasibility stage for the new levee project is, unequivocally, the largest step forward in making this project a reality in decades.
In order to keep the project moving forward we’ve hosted a delegation from Washington, DC Army Corps Headquarters, including Major General Jackson, right here in the Pajaro Valley to show winter storm damage and emphasize our needs. Weekly calls and meetings are held with San Francisco regional Corps district staff from the Army Corps as well as our federal elected representatives. We’ve been to Washington, D.C. and Sacramento to meet with appropriations staff, technical staff and our regional elected officials to advocate for this project and just hosted a visit from a senior member of Senator Kamala Harris’ staff to tour the levee and push for additional support for this project.
The work has been paying off.
In addition to moving closer to the conclusion of the feasibility phase, the U.S. Army Corps has a schedule for completing storm damage repairs incurred in the major storms from two years ago, the flood control district has increased funding for tree maintenance and environmental restoration work (to improve water flow during high water events and also work on restoration of the natural habitat) and more. This is all on top of the significant bench excavation work, which prevented significant flooding in the major storms of two years ago and repair work that has been done in areas along the river and tributaries during the last few winters.
We know more can be done and more needs to be done. Addressing the needs of the Pajaro River has been a priority for all involved in the flood control district. We believe that our technical staff at the county and the city are top-notch and we have federal partners that are more engaged now than they have been historically. Working together, we can make the new levee project a reality.
Zach Friend and Greg Caput are County Supervisors and serve on the Zone 7 Flood Control and Water Conservation District Board of Directors for the Pajaro River. Their opinions are their own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.