Why is it necessary to build a new levee for the Pajaro River? What has been your involvement with the 100-Year Flood Protection Project?
The 100-Year Flood Protection project is intended to correct a levee system built on the Pajaro River in 1949 that has been declared inadequate (and proven inadequate as evidenced by the floods of 1955, 1958, 1995, 1997, and 1998) in providing 100-year flood protection for the area.
As a member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors representing the Fourth District (South County), I am concerned by the property and economic damage another flood will bring to our community. The senior communities of Bay Village and Pajaro Village are adjacent to the levee—as is some of the most bountiful agricultural land in the country. To disregard the threat of another flood is irresponsible. I have participated in meetings with all stakeholders, including holding community meetings to ensure residents are informed of the status of this project. The safety of the residents is important to me.
I have traveled with other local officials to Sacramento to meet with California Department of Water Resources officials and with state legislators to garner support for our project and pursue state grant funding. In addition, we have traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) officials and federal legislators to ensure our project is given adequate attention.
The ACOE is the federal sponsor for the levee project; the local sponsors are Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The local sponsors, along with the City of Watsonville, provide the ACOE with a variety of local factual information and input to aid in the planning, design, and construction of an adequate levee project. Over the years, the ACOE has studied approximately 19 design project alternatives and is currently approaching a critical stage of designating one of the project alternatives a National Economic Development Project (NEDP) project.
I and other Santa Cruz County officials have been assertively negotiating with the ACOE and I have enlisted the help of federal legislators to ensure that the project design designated as the NED is also a Locally Preferred Project (LPP), one that has the local stakeholder consensus and adequately protects critical sections of Santa Cruz County. The project must provide 100-year flood protection to urban areas, protect rural water wells, and protect the prime farmland that serves as our community’s economic base.
What is your opinion of the current proposed plan?
The current draft plan for the project (the NED) would not provide any additional flooding protection; much less reach the goal of providing 100-year protection for critical sections of the Santa Cruz County Project area. In fact the Corps’ NED would actually make some of our areas more vulnerable to flooding by building 100-year protection levees on the Monterey County side of the river. In addition, there is the concern that the project levees will not be improved to new federal standards for such construction without protection on the Santa Cruz County side in certain sections of the river. The Corps’ NED would provide 100-year protection to very deserving communities in Monterey County, while leaving approximately 8-year protection for critical sections of Santa Cruz County. These actions are not only unacceptable to the local sponsors, but they fail to fulfill the goals of 100-year flood protection for both sponsors. The locally preferred project (LPP) would provide 100-year flood protection to the entire project area and is admittedly more expensive than the Corps’ presumed NED. However, any cost savings would be quickly lost when the all-but-certain 100-year flood event occurs and lays waste to our rich agricultural lands—resulting in soil contamination, job losses, potential public health hazards, and the exposure to continuous and expensive litigation for Santa Cruz County.