PAJARO, Calif. (KRON) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom toured Pajaro in north Monterey County Wednesday after the agricultural community was swamped by a storm-triggered levee breach along the Pajaro River.
Thousands of residents were evacuated on March 11 after an atmospheric river drenched the region with rain, breached the levee, and swamped Pajaro. Flood victims, including babies and young children, were rescued from their homes and vehicles by swiftwater rescue teams, California National Guard soldiers, and Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies.
Newsom toured miles of farmland that still remains flooded on both sides of the Santa Cruz-Monterey county border.
The Pajaro River’s 74-year old levee is in dire need of modernization.
In December of 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized a rebuild and enhancement of the Pajaro River and Salsipuedes Creek for improving flood protection infrastructure. In 2022, Newsom signed legislation to advance state funds for the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project.
But the levee modernization project moved too slowly to prevent March’s devastating levee breach.
This winter’s powerful storms lashed the levee before improvement were made, and as a result, the community of Pajaro was left underwater.
Historically overlooked and low-income communities, like Pajaro, disproportionately suffer the impacts of natural disasters, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla said. This is due to a lack of adequate protections and state funding, which leads to antiquated infrastructure, Padilla said.
Sen. Padilla said, “I was proud to help secure a $82 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to begin the project to reinforce the levees in this historically underserved and largely farmworker community of Pajaro, California. And unfortunately, I imagine you’ve seen the images for days now. Mother Nature did not wait for the Corp to complete its work. This past week, the levee broke, flooding the town.”
The majority of Pajaro’s flood victims are low-income Latino farmworkers and immigrants. “These are folks who can least afford to be hit by these devastating floods,” Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo said.
Newsom said state agencies are coordinating with local partners and nonprofits to shelter and support displaced Pajaro residents, regardless of immigration status. Evacuees told KRON4 that they will not be able to return home for weeks.
A 400-foot-wide gap at the levee breach was filled with rocks as a temporary emergency patch. Highway 1 reopened on Thursday after a 4-day closure.