Severe storms brought floodwater to Monterey County, displacing residents and damaging crops, such as berries in hoop houses above, west of Salinas near the Salinas River. Monterey County Farm Bureau estimates crop damage from the storms to exceed $336 million. (Courtesy of California Farm Bureau Federation)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Warm atmospheric river storms wreaked havoc on California last week, causing widespread flooding from rain and snowmelt, which overfilled rivers and creeks, displaced residents, washed out roads and damaged agriculture.

In Monterey County, there was significant flooding along the Salinas River and two levee breaks along the Pajaro River. 

Residents of Pajaro, including farmworkers, were evacuated. Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Pajaro last week to view the damage and meet with government leaders and first responders.

Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot said he expects agricultural damage to exceed the $336 million caused by storms that hit the region in January, affecting 15,705 acres.

“There will be more crop losses as areas that have not experienced flooding now are experiencing it for the first time,” Groot said.

With food safety the highest priority, Groot said storm-flooded fields must undergo a testing protocol to return to production. The protocol, established by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, is needed to determine whether pathogens are in the fields. The process may take 60 days after waters recede.

“With fields being so saturated and inaccessible,” Groot said, “planting schedules set for March will probably be delayed.”

The California Strawberry Commission said, “Our farming communities will face a massive cleanup before they can even begin the process of preparing the fields again and starting over.”

Despite the challenges, the commission said there will be increased shipments of strawberries from Oxnard and Santa Maria to keep up with demand.

Jimmy Hook, president of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association, said agricultural commissioners are collecting damage information but he expects delays due to the wet conditions. 

“This would be a good scenario for a state (disaster) declaration and it sounds like information collection has started to assess that avenue,” said Hook, who is the agricultural commissioner in Kings County.

At the governor’s request, President Joe Biden issued a presidential emergency declaration last week, authorizing federal assistance to support state and local storm response efforts. With storms forecast to continue this week, the state of emergency was declared in 43 counties.

Christine Souza and Ching Lee are assistant editors of Ag Alert, a publication of California Farm Bureau Federation. They may be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].

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