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Pajaro River Levee system repairs underway

PAJARO, Calif. (CBS, KYMA/KECY) - Last week marked six months since a levee broke in Montery County, flooding the nearby town of Pajaro.

The community of 3,000 is slowly recovering, but it still has a long way to go.

And now, flood victims worry what the next winter may bring. Repairs on the levee are no being fast tracked.

However, environmentalists have some concerns.

Repairs underway

With the help of the Army Corp of Engineers, repairs to the Pajaro River Levee system, damaged by last winter’s storms, are underway.

Mark Strudley, the Executive Director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency (PRFMA), is one of many working on the project.

"What they’re doing is they’re removing at least 400 feet of temporary fill that they put within the levee system to plug the hole that was created in March. So, they’re removing this material. They’re going to use that material to fill up some of the scour that was created as that flood water flowed across the agricultural fields here and then they’re going to be bringing in new material to rebuild this levee system and make it very firm and strong."

Mark Strudley, Executive Director of PRFMA

Thousands of people in the nearby town of Pajaro were flooded out of their homes when the levee failed. As of now, many of those residents are back, but are worried it could all happen again.

Quickening the process

That’s why the state is rushing to repair the damage before this next rainy season.

To help quicken the process, Governor Newsom signed an executive order allowing workers to bypass some of the regulations normally in place for such a job.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend was one of many pushing the governor to do so.

"We made a request that...the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) be waived as a part of the repair process and the tributary work, the tributaries had some damages in the city of Watsonville due to flooding. He signed an executive order for exactly that," Friend explained.

Concerns from environmentalists

The executive order has allowed repairs to begin on levees across the state. The job here is scheduled to be completed in just a few weeks.

But some activists are worried; rebuilding the levees so quickly, without any of the environmental regulations in place, could cause problems in the future.

Artie Valencia is with Restore the Delta, an organization that works to protect and restore waterways across the area.

"In our eyes, we think, 'Okay it’s not...We think that it’s very vital to go through the proper legislative process that we have in the system in order to properly conduct a project because you need to know what the long term affect are,'" Valencia spoke.

Keeping people and environment safe

Valencia also said she understands the need to keep people safe, but just wants these projects done in a way where they’re also safe for the environment. Strudley said he understands that concern, and that’s why the agency’s next plan is to totally replace the outdated levee system.

"Environmentally right now, this river is constrained between two narrow levees. There’s not enough room for habitat. There’s not enough room for geomorphic process and river function. The plan is to do something that retreats from that hazard and gives space for the environment," Strudley shared.

Strudley says that bigger replacement project is scheduled to begin next summer. For now though, those larger environmental goals will have to wait, as these smaller repairs go in place to try and protect people and their property from what many worry could be another wet winter ahead.

If the weather cooperates, the repairs are expected to finish by the end of November.

Article Topic Follows: California News

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