Pajaro Levee Broken by Atmospheric River Surge: Causes Massive Flooding

The levee along the Pajaro River in northern Monterey County broke sometime Saturday night, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people in the middle of the night.

As soon as the levee was broken, both the Monterey County Water Resources Agency and the California Department of Water Resources reportedly rushed to the scene to attempt and stem the tide of flooding.

An earlier in the day evacuation order had been issued by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office for the Pajaro area. Residents of Monterey County and Santa Cruz County were warned of the dangers of staying by volunteers such as County Supervisor Luis Alejo and County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez.

Alejo tweeted his gratitude to the volunteers who went “door-to-door once again in #Pajaro” to inform people of the evacuation.

Emergency personnel rushed to Pajaro in the middle of the night to aid in the evacuation. The National Guard was also present with high-water rescue vehicles, in addition to local fire and police departments. Residents were evacuated on MST buses just before the flood waters began to rise.

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Santa Cruz Fairground (2061 E. Lake Blvd., Watsonville) and Compass Church (10325 S. Main St.) served as evacuation centers. On Saturday morning, Cal Guard stated that they had assisted in the rescue of 56 persons from the rising flood waters in Pajaro.

Pajaro Levee Broken by Atmospheric River Surge
Pajaro Levee Broken by Atmospheric River Surge

Pajaro Levee: A Look Back in Time

A number of significant events have occurred since the Pajaro levee was first built in 1949. The Pajaro River Watershed reports that the levee was breached twice, in 1955 and 1958. Even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in 1963 that the levee was inadequate, no new levee was built despite 20 years of planning.

Major flooding occurred after the levee failed in 1995 and 1998. In 1995, floods inflicted about $95 million in damages and claimed the lives of two persons.

In 2017, the levees were almost breached once again, but emergency repairs kept them in place. The Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project received a funding boost from the state after Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 489 that year. The earliest that work might have begun on the project was 2024.

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