SACRAMENTO — Governor Newsom has announced the signing of Senate Bill 496, authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz) to fund the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project. This bill directs the Department of Water Resources to pay 100 percent of the state’s cost share for reconstruction of the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project. This funding will enable environmental projects, including groundwater management, floodplain recharge, and fishery protection.

“Today marks a momentous day for the flood-prone communities of Watsonville and Pajaro,” said Laird. “Governor Newsom’s signature of SB 496 will provide 100-year flood prevention in a region that has faced years of hardship due to unmet needs for infrastructure repair. This bill reflects a meaningful investment in a safer future for residents of Senate District 17.”

Since the construction of the levee system in 1949, there have been four major floods on the Pajaro River and its tributaries, resulting in the tragic loss of two lives in 1995 and ongoing costs in the millions of dollars in damages to critical infrastructure. Notably, the Pajaro River project affects some of the most productive farmland in the world, as agriculture is a $750,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 per year industry in the Pajaro Valley.

“As a proud co-author of SB 496, I am grateful that Governor Newsom signed this critical public safety bill into law,” stated Assemblymember Robert Rivas. “This urgently needed update to our laws will protect lives, infrastructure, and property in some of our most vulnerable communities, and I applaud Senator Laird for moving this important policy across the finish line.”

SB 496 represents collaborative state leadership to address the economic needs of those living in Watsonville and Pajaro, where per-capita income is less than half the state and national average.

“The State’s commitment to our community through this legislation is nothing short of historic,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, Chair of the Zone 7 Board of Directors. “For decades, Watsonville and the Town of Pajaro have lived under the fear of flooding, and unquestionably, hope is on the horizon. With current flood protection levels that are some of the worst in the nation, the State’s assistance cannot come soon enough and is greatly appreciated.”

Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips notes, “The Pajaro Levee improvement project is an extremely important, long-term safety project which has been in the works for decades. Thanks to the tireless support from our state advocate John Laird, Monterey County is poised to receive the necessary funds to lessen the local matching requirement and reduce the financial burden on local families. For over 50 years, the people of Pajaro have lived with the risk of deadly flooding, and this support means they will get provided the flood safety they have long awaited.”

“This funding is a major milestone for a project that has been decades in the making,” said Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra. “We are incredibly thankful for Senator Laird’s leadership and advocacy and the many dedicated City and County staff that helped make this a reality.”
Senate Bill 496 will take effect on Jan 1, 2022.