Levee Breach May Affect Supermarket Strawberries

California region famous for the crop is flooded
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 12, 2023 8:25 AM CDT
Levee Breach May Affect Supermarket Strawberries
Eusebia Gonzalez sits on a cot at an evacuation center at Santa Cruz County fairgrounds in Watsonville, Calif., Saturday, March 11, 2023. She and her family were evacuated from their home in Pajaro at 5 am on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

A Northern California agricultural community famous for its strawberry crop was forced to evacuate early Saturday after the Pajaro River’s levee was breached by flooding from a new atmospheric river that pummeled the state. Across the Central Coast's Monterey County, more than 8,500 people were under evacuation orders and warnings, including roughly 1,700 residents—many of them Latino farmworkers—from the unincorporated community of Pajaro, per the AP. Officials said the Pajaro River's levee breach is about 100 feet wide. Crews had gone door to door Friday afternoon to urge residents to leave before the rains came, but some stayed and had to be pulled from floodwaters early Saturday.

The Pajaro Valley is a coastal agricultural area known for growing strawberries, apples, cauliflower, broccoli, and artichokes. National brands like Driscoll’s Strawberries and Martinelli’s are headquartered in the region. In 1995, the Pajaro River's levees broke, submerging 2,500 acres of farmland and the community of Pajaro. A state law, passed last year, advanced state funds for a levee project. Construction was scheduled to start in 2024.

Luis Alejo, chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, called the flooding “massive” and said the damage will take months to repair. The Pajaro River separates the counties of Santa Cruz and Monterey in the area that flooded Saturday, including the city of Watsonville. Floodwaters that got into the region’s wells might be contaminated with chemicals, officials said, and residents were told not to drink or cook with tap water for fear of illness. Officials had been working along the levee in the hopes of shoring it up when it was breached around midnight Friday into Saturday. Crews began working to fix the levee around daybreak Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.

(More California stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.