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Watsonville, county officials seek quick fix to flood threat...

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel
11/09/2011

Watsonville, county officials seek quick fix to flood threat along Pajaro River

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_19295046

WATSONVILLE -- Frustrated by the lack of progress on a federal flood protection project, city officials pushed for temporary fixes Tuesday during a tour of levees along the Pajaro River and Salsipuedes Creek.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to upgrade the levee system built in 1949 has lagged for years due to inadequate federal funding for preliminary work and disputes over the project. During the tour, Santa Cruz County Flood Control Manager Bruce Laclergue told city officials under the best of circumstances the estimated $200 million project wouldn't get under way until 2016.

"We want an interim project," said City Manager Carlos Palacios. "The federal project is never going to happen. I've lost faith in that."

Laclergue said he understood the frustration of city officials, but the project will eventually happen. Local officials needed to keep the pressure on Washington, he said.

He said an $8 million excavation project that will remove 30,000 truckloads of dirt between the river and the levee is set for next year to increase the carrying capacity of the river in the meantime.

But city officials are worried about rainy season, especially along a section of Salsipuedes Creek that borders senior neighborhoods at the eastern edge of the city. Last year, during an unusually heavy storm in October, the water came less than a foot from topping the levee and flooding neighborhoods there.

"We're concerned about the imminent threat," said Mayor Daniel Dodge.

Laclergue said it's particularly difficult to get permits to work along Salsipuedes and Corralitos creeks because state and federal wildlife officials consider them habitat for spawning steelhead. He also said the real danger is upstream where the two creeks converge near East Lake Avenue. Flooding will occur there first, he said, putting water on the other side of the levee before it even gets to the senior neighborhoods and possibly sending water into the Vista Montana neighborhood.

Laclergue and Don Hill, the county's assistant public works director, said they would work with city public works staff to figure out what more could be done in the area.

In other action, the council approved a zoning change that will allow the Pajaro Valley Historical Association to expand its East Beach Street headquarters to an adjacent property.

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