Aug 31, 2023
California Strawberry Commission acts in wake of flooding

Earlier this month, California governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to expedite critical work like levee repairs and debris removal to help protect and prepare local communities in anticipation of another possible wet season.

In March, the Pajaro and Salinas Rivers saw record rainfall, leading to historic flooding and levee failure in the region. The flooding affected nearly 5% of farms in the area with millions in crop, property and equipment damage.

California farms were jeopardized by torrential rains that deluged fields, like this strawberry field near Salinas.
California farms were jeopardized by torrential rains that deluged fields, like this strawberry field near Salinas. Photo courtesy California Strawberry Commission.

The California Strawberry Commission’s Public Policy team quickly went to work, highlighting the issue with the state lawmakers and working with Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), former California Agriculture Committee chairman and current assembly speaker, to convene a special meeting of the Ag Committee to discuss the March floods and the levee breeches. At that meeting, strawberry grower Peter Navarro, strawberry commission executive committee member, gave a first-hand account of the levee breech along the Pajaro River and the flooding that caused millions in damage to the strawberry industry.

“I’m thankful for the work of the California Strawberry Commission to highlight the effects of the flooding and work with lawmakers to secure much-needed relief funding, and now executive action, to make the necessary repairs and preparation for upcoming wet seasons,” Navarro said, according to a news release. “The flooding earlier this year was devasting to many California strawberry growers as well as our local communities, which are resilient but still recovering.”

The executive order allows affected communities to accelerate work to restore levee function and river channel capacity degraded by last winter’s storms and floods. It streamlines public agencies’ emergency levee repair and debris removal work and suspends certain laws, regulations and criteria in existing orders — conditioned on agencies complying with specified environmental and resource protection requirements — for emergency levee repair and debris removal projects.

“The much-needed repairs to the Pajaro and Salians River levees have been a long-time coming and beginning these repairs allow growers to focus on producing the high-quality, sustainably grown strawberries that drive local economies and produce 90% of the nation’s strawberries,” Rick Tomlinson, California Strawberry Commission president, said in the release.

In addition to working with lawmakers to highlight issues caused by the flooding, the commission was one of the first on the ground during the floods to get information and resources out to growers and the local community. Working with media and lawmakers, the commission highlighted the devastation across these areas and pushed for emergency funding to assist in recovery efforts. Shortly after, Gov. Newsom requested a presidential major disaster declaration from the Biden administration that allowed resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies to assist with the recovery.

While recovery is ongoing, the California strawberry crop and supply remains strong. Harvest is ongoing around the state, providing fresh California strawberries year-round.


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