A little more than a month after the Pajaro Levee broke and released waves of roiling river water that laid waste to homes, businesses and crops in Pajaro, a group of local, state and federal lawmakers gathered near the river in Monterey County to discuss what is being done to help ensure such a disaster does not happen again.
Tommy Williams, who manages the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (ACOE) San Francisco office, told a gaggle of reporters that temporary fixes are expected to begin in the coming summer.
But Williams also says that a $400 million upgrade to the levee system to provide 100-year flood protection could begin as early as summer 2024.
This is a significant departure from recent predictions that it would take at least two years—and possibly up to five years—to get started.
But the promise Wednesday from Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Jimmy Panetta—along with Pajaro River Flood Management Agency Director Mark Strudley—was clear: officials are working to cut through red tape and streamline the process.
Padilla pointed to the recent acquisition of $400 million in state and federal funds to upgrade the levee system, but says it comes too late for residents who are still out of their homes. Many of those are the same residents who have endured five floods over the past three decades.
“Unfortunately, tragically, mother nature didn’t wait,” he says. “Didn’t wait for the work to get started. It’s now our job to make sure that tragedy doesn’t strike again while funding is in the pipeline. We will continue to work together to ensure the Biden Administration expedites construction funding and protects this community the way it deserves.”
Panetta says he has made fixing the levee system a priority during his time in Congress by putting pressure on federal and state lawmakers and the ACOE.
“But boy, have we seen lately that more pressure is needed,” he says. “Pressure not just to start this project but to start it right now.”
Strudley says that he is taking action now to fast-track the temporary repairs, making sure the needed funding is secured and eliminating the regulatory and administrative burdens that could delay the project.
“We are ready, willing and able to start building new levees,” Strudley says.