Next week the City of Santa Cruz will open the bids for the job of clearing all plant matter under 5’ in height from the levee of the San Lorenzo River from the river mouth to the Highway 1 bridge. This work is being conducted as local developers and FEMA push the City into compliance with outdated thinking about erosion control and levy strength. The City Department of Public Works (funded by the taxpayers) had known about and planned for this project for 2.5 years but only brought this topic to the attention of the public when it was entered into the City Council’s December calendar, thereby actively supporting the clearing of the plant material. There has been no comment from newly elected Mayor Fred Keely, an avowed environmentalist. The environmental degradation this clearing will result in cannot be overstated.
For many years Jane Mio, permitted by the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Rec and funded by the Valley Women’s Club, has gathered groups of volunteers to plant and nurture the environmental health of the River Estuary. The existence of well over 1,000 native plants cared for by Mio et al. has resulted in the establishment of an incredibly diverse environment of animals, insects, birds (both resident and migratory, including the bald eagle) and aquatic animals in this location, which will be wiped out and displaced if this clearing takes place. It should be noted that the allowance of increased vegetation along this corridor was supported and encouraged by the Army Corps of Engineers after UCSC Prof. Gary Griggs’ findings on the 1982 storm. It showed that increased vegetation did not interfere with levee effectiveness during high water events.
The Army Corps of Engineers own the levee. They were provided a timeline to update rules and regulations regarding the care of aging levees by June of 2023, which they have failed to begin work on. The levee health studies they are relying on do not include the reality that root structures in the soil help to retain that very soil, that plants covering bare ground help slow rain, reducing the impact of water when it hits the ground, that shading the levies helps cool the river, protecting the array of animals living in its waters, that runoff from the bare levies will silt up the river, smothering eggs laid by salmon and other amphibious animals. The list goes on. The reliance on these outdated parameters is due to the Corps’ failure to update its regulations. Updated regulations would include findings of Prof. Griggs—currently allowed.
At this late date, it seems that the very public servants paid to inform us of actions planned to be taken in our neighborhoods have failed miserably. Please, though, reach out to the City Council, Mayor Fred Keeley and Supervisors Justin Cummings and Bruce McPherson and express your concern about this project. At some point, the environment must be the winner, not the developers. Time is of the essence.
Beth Ahlgren, Felton
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