BY KELSI THORUD WITH KPIX
PAJARO -- With the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, repairs to the Pajaro River levee system, damaged by last winter's storms, are underway.
Mark Strudley, the executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency, is one of many working on the project.
"What they're doing is they're removing at least 400 feet of temporary fill that they put within the levee system to plug the hole that was created in March. So they're removing this material. They're going to use that material to fill up some of the scour that was created as that flood water flowed across the agricultural fields here and then they're going to be bringing in new material to rebuild this levee system and make it very firm and strong," Strudley told KPIX.
Thousands of people in the nearby town of Pajaro were flooded out of their homes when the levee failed earlier this year. Now, many of those residents are back but worried it could all happen again.
That's why the state is rushing to repair the damage before this next rainy season.
To help quicken the process, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order allowing workers to bypass some of the regulations normally in place for such a job.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend was one of many pushing the governor to do so.
"We made a request that CEQA be waived, the California Environmental Quality Act be waived as a part of the repair process and the tributary work, the tributaries had some damages in the city of Watsonville due to flooding. He signed an executive order for exactly that," said Friend.
Newsom's executive order has allowed repairs to begin on levees across the state.
The job here is scheduled to be completed in just a few weeks. But some activists are worried rebuilding the levees so quickly without any of the environmental regulations in place could cause problems in the future.
Artie Valencia is with Restore the Delta, an organization that works to protect and restore waterways across the area.
"We still think that there should be environmental impact reports going on and, in order to ensure that these projects are being properly done and will protect the communities holistically," Valencia told KPIX.
Valencia said she understands the need to keep people safe but just wants these projects done in a way where they're also safe for the environment.
Back out at the Pajaro River site, Strudley said he understands that concern, that's why the agency's next plan is to totally replace the outdated levee system.
"Environmentally, right now this river is constrained between two narrow levees. There's not enough room for habitat. There's not enough room for geomorphic process and river function. The plan is to do something that retreats from that hazard and gives space for the environment," he said.
According to Strudley, that bigger replacement project is scheduled to begin next summer.
For now, those larger environmental goals will have to wait as these smaller repairs go in place to try and protect people and their property from what many worry could be another wet winter ahead.