Quick Take:

Although the San Lorenzo River culvert project was intended to end the need for scheduled breaches of the San Lorenzo River lagoon, the City of Santa Cruz Public Works Department had to manually breach the lagoon last Friday. Why? Yet another lingering effect from devastating winter storms.

People who knew about last year’s San Lorenzo River culvert project were probably a little confused to see personnel from the City of Santa Cruz Public Works Department manning bulldozers and digging a canal from the lagoon to the ocean last week.

Public works closed the east end of the Main Beach from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday to breach the lagoon to alleviate minor flooding along lower Ocean Street and in the Beach Flats area. However, the culvert project, which involved installing a height-control system for the lower part of the river, was supposed to prevent the need for manual breaching. That entailed installing two long pipes running from the trestle bridge to the river’s mouth to prevent flooding due to high waters.

So if that was mostly completed in late 2022, why was a manual breach required last week? Turns out, it’s another thing that you can attribute to last winter’s torrent of atmospheric rivers.

Janice Bisgaard, city public works spokesperson, said that the lagoon required a breach because of a nearby cliff collapsed during the storms, sending debris into the culvert and blocking the flow of water.

Although crews are actively working to remove the blockage of the culvert, there is no clear timeline for when the repair might be completed. Bisgaard added that this type of blockage is an unusual event, and public works does not expect this to be a recurring issue.

But until the blockage is cleared, manual breaching is the only way to prevent flooding in the adjacent areas.

Along with flood prevention, the culvert’s main purpose is for public safety and the protection of wildlife. Lagoon breaches can be dangerous and even deadly, as unaware beachgoers have been swept into the ocean by rushing water in the past — a particularly big concern at such a tourist-heavy beach.

Also, a breach can contaminate the mostly freshwater river with the ocean’s saltwater, altering the habitats of endangered species; brackish water species can also be flushed into the ocean, which is an inappropriate environment for them.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

Max Chun is the general-assignment correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Max’s position has pulled him in many different directions, seeing him cover development, COVID, the opioid crisis, labor, courts...