Upstream activities and the widespread removal of trees along the Pajaro wash excess sediments downstream. Photo: Lois Robin
In April citing the threat to riverside communities from
flooding exacerbated by the Army Corps of Engineers' failed
attempts to tame the river, American Rivers named the Pajaro
River as America's #1 most endangered river for 2006. The
annual America's Most Endangered Rivers report highlights
10 rivers facing a major turning point the coming year, where
action by citizens can make a huge difference for both community
well-being and river health.
American Rivers joined the Pajaro River Watershed Committee
and the Sierra Club in spotlighting threats to the river,
along with workable solutions.
The Pajaro River, and the safety and well-being of adjacent
communities, are at a critical turning point. The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers is poised to recommend yet another old-style,
over-engineered flood control project that will produce an
increasing risk of catastrophic flooding. To protect Watsonville
and other communities along the river and restore the health
of the Pajaro, the Corps must adopt a modern, comprehensive
flood control project that works with nature-instead of against
The Pajaro River flows from the Diablo mountain range to
Monterey Bay. On the coast the communities of Watsonville
and Pajaro have flooded repeatedly in recent years, most dramatically
in 1995 and 1998. The transformation of the lower river's
once lush riparian habitat into a denuded channel has compromised
natural flood protection along the waterway. Following severe
floods in 1995, most of the trees along the lower Pajaro's
levees were removed in a misguided attempt to reduce flooding.
Instead, the now bare channel has led to the increased velocity
of flood waters, further erosion, and millions of dollars
in flood damage recovery efforts.
To make matters worse, 70 years of extensive sand and gravel
mining in upstream tributaries has unleashed millions of cubic
yards of sediment that are washed downstream harming water
quality and the river's ability to handle severe runoff. Upstream
activities including farming and development have also added
to peak flood flows, increasing the risk of flooding downstream.
The Corps is proposing to rebuild destructive and outdated
levees, which would cost taxpayers more than $200 million
to construct instead of restoring the historic upstream floodplain
and wetlands that could provide the first line of defense
American Rivers and its partners on the Pajaro are urging
the Corps to advance a watershed-wide management plan for
the Pajaro that works with nature, and not against it. Such
a plan would seek a more natural course for the river, restore
a healthy riparian corridor, revegetate the river's banks
and channel, and identify upstream wetlands and riparian lands
where floodwaters could naturally and safely overflow.