| Club provides Army Corps with new alternatives for Pajaro
River | by Patricia Matejcek and Lois Robin
Dissatisfied with the dredging and floodwalls proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers
for the Pajaro River, the Sierra Club Pajaro River Watershed Committee commissioned
its own reports which propose flood protection measures that are environmentally
and economically superior.
Two reports commissioned by the Club were delivered to the Corps and State and
Federal Agencies in July. The first, produced by Philip Williams & Associates
(PWA), a hydrological and civil engineering firm, presents five new design alternatives
which must be considered by the Corps. The one preferred by the Club has a strong
likelihood of being backed by state and federal resource protection agencies who
have made clear the present Corps alternatives fail to meet current laws.
The second report is by Dr. Robert Curry, fluvial geomorphologist, and his students
at the Watershed Institute at California State University Monterey Bay. Their
extensive research yielded data that supports the utilization of upstream sites
in Santa Clara and San Benito counties to reduce sedimentation and retain runoff
which would clean and slow the progress of upstream waters to the lower Pajaro.
The Club proposes to set back the levees 100' to give the river more room to meander,
and remove dirt on one side of the river down to the level of the incised riverbed,
increasing flood capacity and allowing restoration of riparian vegetation which
will improve salmonid and bird habitat. This will also create a stable channel,
requiring little or no maintenance.
These suggested measures are strengthened by the recently-located 1944 and 1966
Congressional authorization for the original Pajaro levees which mandate environmental
restoration as an integral part of any levee work.
Although the PWA report only addresses the river from Murphy’s Crossing
down to the Highway 1 bridge, significant water quality, groundwater recharge
and flood control benefits would be increased if Dr. Curry’s upstream retention
options are implemented.
Poorly managed development along the Pajaro River has resulted in major degradation
over the years. Gravel mining in San Benito county generates excessive siltation,
the two communities of Pajaro and Watsonville are built on the Pajaro’s
rich floodplain, and the lower river has been constrained into an unnaturally-narrow
and straightened channel since the mid-1800s, requiring increasingly expensive
construction and annual maintenance.
Presently the entire Pajaro River system is degraded, unstable and “broken,”
but adoption of the Sierra Club’s “preferred alternative” and
Dr. Curry’s recommendations would restore stability, reverse degradation
and restore in-stream and riparian habitat. As we go to press, no response has
yet been received from the Corps.
The PWA report is available on the Sierra Club Ventana Chapter website, www.ventana.sierraclub.org.
The Curry report is available at: http://home.csumb.edu/c/currybob/ world/Pajaro/.