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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county
Big decisions coming for the Pajaro River watershed
December 2010

The Club’s Pajaro River Watershed Committee is working double time on issues affecting this critical coastal watershed. Committee members and environmental attorney Gary Patton attended a November 12th meeting of the Pajaro River Watershed Flood Prevention Authority (a four-county local government consortium charged with the responsibility for dealing with the substantial flood dangers along the Pajaro).

At this November 12th meeting, held in Watsonville, local officials joined Congressmember Sam Farr in complaining to the Army Corps of Engineers that the Corps has not moved fast enough to address flood dangers. The problem, however, hasn’t really been mainly at the federal level. Several years ago, the Corps proposed (and the Sierra Club supported) a project that would address the critical public safety concerns in Watsonville and in the unincorporated community of Pajaro, located in Monterey County. Unfortunately for those residents facing very real flooding dangers, local governments have all rejected this “basic” flood control plan, and have demanded a much more extensive (and much more costly) plan that would protect agricultural lands as well as the urban areas. There is nothing automatically wrong about protecting our commercially productive agricultural lands from flooding, but since the national program puts a priority on public safety, not supporting agricultural land owners, the process for approval has been significantly delayed.

On November 16th, with attorney Patton again in tow, the Committee appeared at a meeting of the “Zone 7” Board of Directors, held in conjunction with a regular meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. Though all members of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors are also members of the Zone 7 Board, Zone 7 is a separate government agency, which has both flood control and conservation responsibilities within Santa Cruz County.

The Zone 7 Board got very much the same presentation that the multi-county group received the week before, but this time without the Army Corps of Engineers present. At the Zone 7 meeting, speaking for the Committee, Patton noted that there was a fundamental unfairness in asking lower-income urban residents in Watsonville and Pajaro to help subsidize flood protection for farmland owners. He also emphasized the continuing theme of the Committee: the solution to the flooding problems along the lower Pajaro River demands a “watershed scale” effort.

The Committee will be taking a leadership role in the New Year, ensuring that a watershed approach is taken seriously. Unless it is, all the problems in the watershed, including flood dangers, will just get worse. Looking to the bright side, the watershed scale solutions that the Committee supports have the promise of addressing not only flood dangers, but also water supply and groundwater overdraft problems, too. Committee Chair Lois Robin says, “stay tuned!” Next year will be important for the future of the Pajaro River watershed.


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