Mired for years in the muck of annual floods, Pescadero leaders were dismayed to hear recently that even basic solutions would still be bogged down in a deluge of paperwork.
Promising they were trying to bring relief, San Mateo County officials, including Supervisor Don Horsley, came to the Pescadero Municipal Advisory Council earlier this month to explain there were no simple answers to solve the flooding.
During periods of high rainfall, water from the nearby Butano Creek can overflow and flood the community’s main road, sometimes spreading into the town’s business core. Pescadero residents for years have urged some kind of permanent solution, saying the flooding was harming local safety and commerce.
But even steps largely regarded as no-brainers, such as clearing out culverts or reopening the marsh’s corroded valve system, would require nods from a gauntlet of local, state and federal agencies. The only workable solution in the short term, Horsley said, would be to warn drivers not to risk driving through the water by way of automated phone warnings or new traffic signals.
A permanent solution could still happen, he suggested, but Pescadero residents shouldn’t expect anything soon.
“I’d like to get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “I’ve got 11 years left in me, and by the time I’m done, I’ll finish this.”
Built on a floodplain, the town of Pescadero has a long history of grappling with inundation problems. Longtime farming families in the town remember averting the flooding by regularly dredging the nearby marsh — an action that some environmentalists would cringe at today.
Dredging all the sediment buildup has re-emerged as the most popular local solution on the South Coast, due mainly to an April grand jury report that endorsed it as the best answer. Many Pescadero officials expressed frustration that the county was now backing away from the plan.
“What we want to do here is no different than what’s done on thousands of other creeks in the U.S.,” said PMAC chairman Greg Bonaparte. “I don’t see why people wouldn’t support a plan that’s done everywhere else.”
But Horsley warned that his talks with federal and state land stewards indicated they would never allow Pescadero to regularly sweep out the marsh. Dredging a coastal estuary like the Pescadero marsh would run afoul of strict environmental rules, and Horsley said he could find no comparable project that had ever been completed recently in California.
“The grand jury report was an oversimplification,” Horsley said. “They overlooked the number of agencies that we’d have to go through.”
Horsley suggested the town’s best bet would be to seek permits to repair and upgrade the culverts along Pescadero Creek Road. He also plans to ask the county Board of Supervisors to pay for an engineering study on the effectiveness of dredging a county-owned section of the creek, which could conceivably move forward quicker.
Two new working groups will convene in the coming weeks to study the flooding problems and try to compile a solution. The state Department of Fish and Game plans to launch a “science panel” in July to begin vetting ideas and deliver a report sometime later this year. More locally, the county Resource Conservation District plans to form a “watershed council” to guide the use of a $100,000 grant.