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Pajaro River Plan downloads in PDF format

> Pajaro River Flood Plan (764 KB)

> Report Figures 1 (9.53 MB)

> Report Figures 2 to 34 (1.33 MB)

> HECRAS Files (3.79 MB ZIP format)

Curry - ESSP report -
Pajaro River Watershed Flood Protection Plan by Dr. Robert Curry and his Watershed Restoration Class of Spring, 2003.

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Pajaro River background information

We are pleased to provide a report by Philip Williams & Associates (PWA), “An Environmental Alternative for the Pajaro River Flood Plan” (July 2003). This report proposes new alternatives for further analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) in its Feasibility Study to modify the existing federal flood control project. We just submitted this report to the ACE, San Francisco District. We now publish it in the hope that it will contribute to constructive discussion by all Stakeholders about how best to provide needed flood protection in the Pajaro River Basin in a manner that maintains and restores water quality, the steelhead and other fisheries, and other natural resources protected by our environmental laws.

PWA is an engineering firm that specializes in water resources planning and management. It is routinely engaged by the ACE and local agencies to help design feasible solutions where different purposes for river management, such as flood control and environmental protection, appear to irreconcilably conflict. Click here for a list of its representative projects. For example, it assisted the ACE, Sacramento District in the redesign of the Napa River Flood Protection Project, which will now protect the City of Napa against 100-year floods and also will restore the tidal marshlands and floodplain. The ACE describes this project as a national model for its mission of achieving flood protection in concert with environmental protection and even restoration. The Sierra Club-Pajaro River Committee engaged PWA to bring those same skills to bear on the Feasibility Study for the Pajaro River Flood Control Project.

The ACE began the Feasibility Study following the 1995 and 1998 floods. It developed a preliminary set of alternatives for modification to the existing project to reestablish 100-year flood protection. As presented at the May 12, 2003 meeting of the Stakeholders Group, the leading alternative (known as ACE Alternative 2A) would raise and set back the levees, remove the riparian vegetation within the active channel, and then routinely clear vegetation, sediment, and gravel on a going-forward basis over the next decades.

Over the next 18 months, the ACE intends to take these alternatives forward for further study of engineering and financial feasibility, as well as environmental impacts. However, the regulatory agencies, which must permit any project modification after the completion of such study, have already raised very substantial doubts whether ACE Alternative 2A or similar alternatives would comply with applicable environmental laws. These laws include: the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits death or injury to the steelhead which spawn in this river; and the Clean Water Act, which prohibits an increase in the suspended sediment load and otherwise requires that a federal project protect all beneficial uses, including fish and wildlife habitat. Following a February 10, 2003 letter by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board that expressed such concerns, we met with the ACE to request an expanded scope of alternatives in the Feasibility Study. Following the May 12th meeting, the ACE fairly responded: what do you recommend?

We recommend that the ACE consider certain alternatives identified in PWA’s report. PWA developed and then modeled six new alternatives to test whether each would provide 100-year flood protection and also satisfy the performance standards suggested by the regulatory agencies for compliance with environmental laws. On the basis of preliminary analysis, PWA Alternatives 2, 3, 4 and 6 appear to be very promising. See Report Sections 6.3, 6.4, 6.5, and 6.7. These alternatives, which are variations on a new strategy, would lower the active channel to approximately its historic level, provide for the safe passage of the 100-year flood, and permit the reestablishment and maintenance of riparian vegetation and other fish and wildlife habitat. While each would require significant sediment removal in the initial reconstruction, that would reduce the long-term maintenance burden by an even greater amount, since the channel would regain its geomorphic stability. We believe that upstream storage, which is a potential feature of any downstream alternative, is also a very promising strategy, since it would reduce the peak flow that must pass between the levees. See Report Section 7. We note that Professor Robert Curry (California State University, Monterey Bay) has recently published an independent report about the feasibility of this strategy.

The 1944 and 1966 authorizing statutes expressly require that the project provide flood control and achieve multiple purposes, including protection of the fish and wildlife habitat and other public uses of this river. These statutes also provide for consideration of an upstream storage strategy. Under the ACE’s general rules, the ongoing Feasibility Study must consider the benefits and costs (including the costs of operation and maintenance) of each alternative over the project life, and it must identify the buildable plan which best achieves all of the authorized purposes.

We thus request that ACE, in coordination with the Counties as local sponsors, regulatory agencies, and other Stakeholders, give careful consideration to PWA alternatives 2, 3, 4, and 6 and upstream storage, along with those alternatives already on the table. We will assure that PWA experts are available to participate in further technical analysis and refinement of alternatives. More generally, we are committed to help develop and implement the best alternative that will provide 100-year flood protection in a cost-effective manner that also protects and restores environmental quality of the Pajaro River, as required by the authorizing statutes.

Please contact Lois Robin at 831-464-1184 or JoAnn Baumgartner, Co-Chair at 831-761-8408 if you have any questions about this report.

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