The City of Watsonville, the town of Pajaro and surrounding agricultural areas face an unacceptably high probability and risk of flooding from the lower Pajaro River and its tributaries. The existing levees that protect these communities were built in 1949 and have not been significantly improved. Today, these levees provide only an eight-year level of flood protection, among the lowest of any federal flood control system in California. The levee reconstruction project, called the Pajaro River Flood Management Project, will provide 100-year flood protection to the City of Watsonville, the Town of Pajaro, and surrounding agricultural areas by constructing levees and improvements along the lower Pajaro River and its tributaries. The $400 million project will be managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency (PRFMA) and the California Department of Water Resources.
Congress authorized reconstruction of the Pajaro River levee system in 1966, and re-authorization was granted by the Water Resources Development Act 1990. The Army Corps Headquarters signed a Director’s Report on December 12, 2019, confirming the federal authorization to rebuild and enhance the existing levees on the Pajaro River and Salsipuedes Creek, and effectively ending the 53-year long planning phase for the project. A Design Agreement was executed with the Army Corps on May 24, 2021 that pivoted the project from the planning phase into the design phase. Additionally, over the past two federal fiscal years, the federal government has appropriated $4.615 million to complete the design phase. Finally, on March 29, 2022, President Biden and the Army Corps awarded the project $67 million to begin construction. With enactment of SB 496 in January of 2022, the State of California has agreed to cost-share the entire non-federal cost of design and construction for the $400 million project. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2025.