The Lower Pajaro Levee Reconstruction Project involves rebuilding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) flood protection levees along eleven miles of the Lower Pajaro River: from the ocean to Murphy’s Crossing Road and along five miles of Salsipuedes and Corralitos Creeks, which drain into the Lower Pajaro in the City of Watsonville, CA.
Until the Levee Reconstruction Project is completed, the Lower Pajaro River area will be alarmingly under-protected from flooding. The reconstructed levees will ultimately provide the urban reaches of region with 100 Year Flood Protection and the agricultural areas with 50 Year Flood Protection.
A 100-year flood can even occur several times during a 100-year period (A 50-year flood can occur several times during a 50-year period). Current estimates show that the levees can carry approximately 19,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water flowing through. A 100-year flood would generate approximately 44,000 cfs. Even 13-to-15-year events (storms with a 6.5 percent to 8 percent chance of occurring each year) can cause flooding.
Over the past several decades, the Pajaro River has severely flooded a number of times.Significant flooding occured in December 1955, April 1958, February 1986, March 1995, January 1997, February 1998. The two most significant floods with dire consequences occurred in 1955 and 1995. In March 1995, flooding caused one death and over $95 million dollars of total economic loss, including $67 million in damage to agricultural fields and $28 million in non-agricultural damage to the Town of Pajaro. As the population living and working near the river increases and the economic impact of the Pajaro floods grows, finding solutions becomes more and more pressing.
The City of Watsonville, the unincorporated town of Pajaro, and surrounding agricultural areas in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties are all subject to flooding from the main stem of the Pajaro River. Without reconstruction of the levees, engineers estimate total annualized damage at $63.6 million.
To solve the Pajaro River flooding problem, the Counties of Monterey and Santa Cruz, the City of Watsonville, and other local partners are working with the USACE. The Levee Reconstruction Project is a local and federal response to address the immediate and future flood protection needs of the region.
Once the project is completed, the areas at risk of flooding may qualify to be mapped out of the FEMA 100-year flood plain, and may no longer be required to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This is especially critical in this region given the economic challenges facing many property owners along the river.
The project was federally authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1966 and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1990.