Years of Environmental Work Slated for Destruction

Years of Environmental Work Slated for Destruction

Santa Cruz, CA (January 11, 2023) — This week, the City Department of Public Works plans to put in motion the clearing of plant vegetation, destroying years of habitat restoration progress made on the levee of the San Lorenzo River. Utilizing outdated protocols is the answer to The Army Corps of Engineers’ (levee owners) failure to update their policies and procedures regarding levee maintenance to meet FEMA’s compliance deadline of July 2023. 

At this late date, it appears there is no way to stop the destruction of years of levee habitat restoration or allow work to be done that would integrate the needs of the native habitat with the needs of the community.

The 2.2-mile urban river stretch of the San Lorenzo River — from the Hwy. 1 Bridge to the mouth of the River, where it enters Monterey Bay — is bordered on either side by levees to prevent flooding into the residential neighborhoods and downtown areas. The riverbanks of these levees have accumulated sand and soil to sustain native vegetation, which provides the food, shelter, and nesting areas for local and migratory bird populations as well as shade and sustenance for steelhead trout and Coho salmon. This stretch of the river is recognized as a valuable resource with diverse microsystems that are essential to the integrity of the native habitat in the lower San Lorenzo River and estuary and integral to the overall health of the San Lorenzo Valley Watershed.

For many years, Jane Mio, permitted by the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Rec, and funded by the Valley Women’s Club of the San Lorenzo Valley, has enlisted community volunteers to restore this sustainable estuary ecosystem. The San Lorenzo River Estuary Project now attracts wildlife (lizards, insects, aquatic animals, resident and migratory birds) and continues the expansion of the riparian corridor. This work will be destroyed when the clearing is done. Additionally, the positive effect the plants have on the levee and river health will be eliminated.

In July 2020, the Corps transferred the levee maintenance to the City, triggering the July 2023 FEMA Accreditation deadline.

In the meantime, the Corps has supported the allowance of increased vegetation along the corridor based on UCSC Prof. Gary Griggs’ findings of the 1982 storm, showing vegetation did not interfere with levee effectiveness during high water events. The outdated FEMA regulations currently in use do not include Prof. Griggs’ findings, thus the alarm about this project moving forward under old, outdated protocols.

The City notified the public in December 2022 of the vegetation clearing. The late date of public notification has eliminated the possibility of citizen input. It means this removal project will happen, pushed for by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Maintaining and restoring native habitats within our communities is vital to our planet's health, native environments, and the well-being of our communities. Our representatives must support maintenance and restoration. In addition to keeping our representatives focused on our local environment, we must all learn about the importance of native habitat restoration and how to support these efforts. The SLV Native Habitat Restoration Program website provides a starting point:

What you can do:

  • Let your representatives know you want them to support our local environment. (Contact info below for those involved in the levee issue).
  • Discover and learn about the unique ecosystems in your neighborhood and how to help them thrive.
  • Join and support local organizations that sustain native habitat restoration in the county.

City Council (, Mayor Fred Keeley (
Supervisor Justin Cummings (
Senator John Laird (

Contact Jane Mio, Program Director, San Lorenzo River Estuary Project, SLV Native Habitat Restoration Program, at ‭(831) 429-1461‬.

The San Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration Program integrates environmental and community needs to restore the riparian habitat and ensure the ongoing health and beauty of the watershed.

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