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HomeUS'Flood Likely': Salinas River Communities Brace for Flooding and Crop Loss

‘Flood Likely’: Salinas River Communities Brace for Flooding and Crop Loss


Monterey County residents are bracing for another onslaught of flooding as an impending storm threatens to overflow the Salinas River, endangering the lives of farmworkers and crops and prompting evacuations.

“Projections now include a probable flood of highways between the Monterey Peninsula and the rest of the county,” officials said hours before an atmospheric river was forecast to hit the agricultural region. More than 10,000 people remained under evacuation orders and warnings as of Monday.

The news comes just days after a levee breach in the nearby Pajaro River triggered massive flooding and prompted dozens of water rescues. The breach left much of Pájaro, a town of about 1,700 people, mostly farm workers, under several feet of water.

Residents and officials fear that flooding along the Salinas River could further threaten the region. By late Monday afternoon, the river had passed its flood stage in Salinas, Bradley and Spreckels, according to the National Metereological Service.

“Crop fields in the Salinas Valley and the Pajaro Valley area are experiencing significant flooding and flooding right now,” said Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, during a news conference. “Salinas Valley flooding appears to be greater along the Salinas River than we experienced in January, with more impacts on rural fields and roads.”

Groot said the January storms, which included nine consecutive atmospheric rivers, affected more than 15,000 acres and contributed to more than $330 million in agricultural losses in the area. The current storms are expected to affect even more acreage, he said, particularly areas west of the city of Salinas.

“There will be further crop losses as areas that have not experienced flooding are now experiencing it for the first time,” Groot said.

Meanwhile, the already flooded Pajaro Valley has “many acres of farmland that are currently under water due to the levee breach over the weekend, and the waters may not recede until the break can be rebuilt.” of the dam,” he said. “This poses a serious threat to crop production throughout the spring season and possibly longer.”

Among the crops at risk are strawberries, raspberries, lettuce and broccoli, Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner Juan Hidalgo said. The Salinas Valley is sometimes referred to as the “salad bowl of the world”.

“Some of the damage that we are seeing right now is quite alarming,” Hidalgo said. “We are seeing much greater damage to our agricultural area than we saw during the January storms.”

The flooding is not only inundating fields and driving growers away from their crops, but will also require pathogen testing after the waters recede, Hidalgo said, a process that could take up to 60 days.

“Depending on how quickly the waters recede, we may see reduced yields for the remainder of the season,” Hidalgo said. “Based on previous flood experience we’ve seen in the past, we’re seeing yield losses of between 30% and 50%.”

Also of concern are the potential impacts for farmworkers in the area, many of whom have been evacuated and could be out of a job while they wait for the fields to return to production.

“Our hearts ache right now,” said Kim Stemler, executive director of the Monterey County Vintner and Growers Assn. The county’s wine industry grows 43,000 acres of wine grapes, about the same amount as Napa County, and employs about 7,200 people, with an economic impact of about $1.4 billion, she said.

“Our wine community is multi-generational, it cares about our land, our employees and our community, and it is very painful for all our people in the world of wine to see how many individuals and families are truly devastated,” he said.

Fortunately, he said, many vineyards are at higher elevations and many vines are still dormant or just beginning to flower, so they can be saved from flooding. But some wineries have lost sewers and pumps and suffered lost business income as people avoid the area.

“We really want to make sure that the employees and the individuals and families that have been displaced get the support they need, get it as soon as possible, and that those who have been unable to work because of these storms, who have lost income very, very quickly , get whatever relief you can,” he said.

Not only have many residents been displaced by flooding and evacuations, but drinking water in the area is currently undrinkable, Monterey County Deputy Sheriff Keith Boyd said. A school, two mobile home parks and about 800 homes in Pájaro are under “no drink” orders because of the floods.

Adding to the challenge is that the region’s water managers are making critical discharges from nearby Lake Nacimiento to make room for more storm inflows, officials said. That is contributing to the amount of water in the Salinas River, which is already reaching its maximum capacity.

Groot, with the Monterey County Farm Bureau, said the conditions highlight the need for more comprehensive management of levees and other channels that have been inundated by the storms.

The Salinas River channel “has not received adequate maintenance in recent decades, and capacity flow rates have been severely reduced due to the accumulation of sandbars, excessive vegetation, particularly non-native vegetation that has overgrown in many stretches of the riverbed,” he said.

Jeremey Arrich, manager of the California Department of Water Resources’ flood management division, said Monday that the agency has deployed crews to help repair the levee breach in Pajaro, including placing rocks and boulders.

“Public safety will take precedence in any action taken to protect local communities, and again, the situation is dynamic and evolving, and we have many resources across the state with our local partners to address that situation,” he said.

A second levee breach along the Pajaro River has eased some pressure, Monterey County water resources engineer Shaunna Murray said, but there’s no clear timeline for when it will be fixed.

“We’re going to see the systems continue to be high and wet, so we’re going to have to continue our vigilance to watch the rivers and prepare,” Murray said. “When these systems come in, and the system is already very wet, the flows don’t really subside for quite some time.”

On the Salinas River, the spikes began around Spreckels late Sunday and early Monday morning, Murray said. Additional peaks are expected from the Arroyo Seco tributary, which will reach the lower Salinas River in the next few days, followed by the waters of the Upper Salinas and San Lorenzo Creek after that.

Deputy Boyd said officials were preparing for high water flooding, including preparing swift water rescue teams.

But while many efforts are being made to keep people safe from storms, crops are largely on their own, Hidalgo said.

“Plants can be quite resilient and can recover, but if they stay under water for too many days, it will definitely have a very significant impact for those growers,” he said.

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