With another atmospheric river imminent, temporary Pajaro levee fix expected by Monday evening

The Pajaro River breached its levee, flooding the community of Pajaro.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

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Workers with the California Department of Water Resources were racing to finish a temporary fix of the Pajaro River levee by Monday evening ahead of another storm that is set to hit the Central Coast.

Monterey County spokesperson Nicholas Pasculli said workers were filling the breach in the levee, which had grown to 300 feet, with rocks, boulders and other natural materials to create a makeshift levee ahead of a coming storm that expected to bring another 2 to 3 inches of rain to lower elevations in Santa Cruz and northern Monterey counties and up to 6 inches in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The goal is for the added rock to stabilize the breach, stop the still-flowing water, and withstand more that will inevitably flow into the river.

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The Pajaro River levee failed overnight Saturday, displacing about 1,700 people from the small agricultural community of Pajaro, just across the Santa Cruz-Monterey county line. More than 500 flood evacuees remained in local shelters Monday, including 320 at the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds. Highway 1 remained closed between Santa Cruz and Monterey counties on Monday as the roadway was submerged by floodwaters.

A Monterey County Sheriff's Office dive team is towed through the flooded waters of Pajaro.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

With more rain on the way, Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, announced that all PVUSD schools will be closed on Tuesday. Administrators are asking students to take home their Chromebooks in order to attend online instruction.

Several areas of Santa Cruz County, including parts of Watsonville, Felton and Paradise Park, were under an evacuation warning.

Though rain totals are expected to be less this time around, National Weather Service meteorologist Alexis Clouser echoed the concerns that many have had since the initial January storms: soil saturation.

“The soil just can’t soak up any more water. Think about it like a sponge, it just can’t take up any more water,” she said. “So any new rainfall that occurs is all just going to be runoff.”

While news that a temporary fix to the levee is near, many Pajaro residents were still asking how long it would be until they could return to their homes.

Francisco Valdez was flooded out of his Pajaro home.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Francisco Valadez has been staying at a hotel since Saturday after his home on Cayetano Street in Pajaro was flooded when the levee broke.

“Every year we have the same issues, which is they don’t pretty much fix the levee, but they want to raise taxes,” he said.

The weekend’s flooding is only the latest in an endless series of floods and evacuation warnings that the second-generation Pajaro resident said he has been through while waiting for upgrades to the levee. A $400 million levee replacement project is slated to begin in 2025. “We’re just getting tired of this,” Valadez said. “Every year it’s the same thing and it’s not getting better.”

Pajaro resident Hannah Northrop.
Pajaro resident Hannah Northrop makes her way through the flooded street to get supplies. Northrop and her boyfriend have decided to stay put until the flooding gets worse.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Hannah Northrop moved to Pajaro from Ben Lomond in December. She and her boyfriend were still staying in their home, which wasn’t flooded. But the couple were making preparations for the next round of storms. “We’re just going to load the car and get out of here,” Northrop said. “We’re just going to floor through the water, I guess.”

How to help flood evacuees

Pasculli said that 20 to 30 organizations in the Pajaro area are reaching out to community members and requesting donations of food, clothing and other resources, adding that the Community Foundation of Monterey County is working to coordinate these efforts.

Second Harvest and Community Bridges are accepting donations, and an Instagram post from Community Bridges contains donation links for both the Santa Cruz and Monterey county community foundations.

Red Cross spokesperson Martin Gagliano said that another way people can help is to make a donation to the Red Cross. You can do so via the Central Coast chapter’s website, by calling 800-RED-CROSS, or by texting “redcross” to 90999 to make a donation of $10.

— Isabel Swafford and Kevin Painchaud contributed to this report.