Flood Risk Management Project

February 20, 2023

Note: As of June 2015, information on Current Alternatives, Cost, Financing, and other elements of the Pajaro River Flood Risk Managment Project are being updated, and up-to-date information will be available soon.

Flood Risk Management Project

The Flood Risk Management Project is a local and federal response to address the immediate and future flood concerns of the region. In order to most effectively manage the risks associated with flooding along the Pajaro River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is working  to implement the Pajaro River Flood Risk Managment Project in collaboration with the following partners:

  • Monterey County Water Resources Agency
  • County of Santa Cruz Flood Control and Water Conservation District
  • City of Watsonville Department of Public Works and Utilities Deparment 

The Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project involves developing a locally acceptable plan of flood management measures to mitigate the risks of flooding. The project area includes eleven miles of the Lower Pajaro River from the Pacific Ocean to Murphy Crossing Road. In addition, the project extends to the tributary creeks of Salsipuedes and Corralitos, which have also experienced substantial flooding events. A number of alternative solutions to the problem are currently being considered.

Community Consensus

In 2015, local sponsors launched the Pajaro River Community Flood Protection Project, a locally-led outreach effort to build community consensus and to disseminate updated information about the project. The effort will involve multiple engagement platforms to seek input from a wide ranging and representative set of residents, groups, agencies, and officials. The USACE is committed to completing the feasibility study in 2016 in order to apply for federal construction funds in 2017.

Flood Risk Management Project

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Responding to Severe Flooding Concerns

The Lower Pajaro River area is alarmingly under-protected from flooding with an existing 8-Year Storm Level of risk reduction. The Flood Risk Management Project will ultimately provide the urban reaches of region adjacent to Watsonville and the town of Pajaro with 100-Year Storm Level of Protection and the agricultural areas with 50-Year Storm Level of Protection.

A 100-year storm 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 storm event 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. To learn more about the 100-Year Level of Risk Reduction, click here.

Once the project is completed, the areas at risk of flooding have a higher likelihood of qualifying to be mapped out of the FEMA 100-year flood plain, removing the requirement 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. To learn more about the NFIP, click here.

The project was federally authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1966 and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1990. 

Flooding in the Past

Over the 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 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 Pajaro River flooding grows, finding solutions becomes an increasingly pressing matter.

The City of Watsonville, the unincorporated Town of Pajaro, and surrounding agricultural areas in both Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties are all subject to flooding from the Pajaro River and its tributaries. Without substantial and up-to-date flood risk management measures, USACE engineers estimate total annualized damage at $63.6 million. The flooding extent of the 1995 and 1998 flooding events can be viewed below.

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