The first stage of a flood control project decades in the making has been completed, a feat that was celebrated Wednesday by many of the politicians and local government staff who have fought so hard for the Pajaro River levee improvements.
All summer, crews dug hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment out of the flood-prone river. The bulk of the work was done on a 2.5-mile stretch near River Park, the Pajaro River bridge and near the Mona Lisa neighborhood on Front Street, all areas that would be seriously impacted should the flood waters ever breech the levee.
The work will increase the water flow of the Pajaro River by about 10 percent in the winter, when the area is prone to flooding, and widen the channel by about 2 feet, officials said.
Dozens of trees were cut down, then put back in the river channel to create natural habitat for fish. This fall, native plants will be added to the now-expansive riverbanks. Next summer, Phase 2 of the project will do similar work on a five-mile stretch of river from Watsonville to Murphys Crossing.
"We should all be proud of this effort," Bruce Laclergue, Flood Control Program Manager for Santa Cruz County, said of the project.
Leaders were especially proud of the joint efforts of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and the city of Watsonville.
"I'm just delighted that it actually happened," Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ellen Pirie said. "This project really is a testament to people working together."
The project was funded by a state Department of Water Resources grant and will cost about $9 million when both phases are completed next year. Pavex of Watsonville did the work.