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Communities along Salinas River brace for more potential flooding

Jonathan Linden
A farm field partially flooded near Spreckels, California on March 16, 2023.

Water might have stopped falling from the sky, but officials are worried flooding will continue.

The Salinas River in Spreckels is expected to rise today to 26 feet, three feet above flood stage. Spreckels is just north of the Salinas River and is one of the communities most at risk.

"The big concern at this point is we've already had water in fields," said Spreckels Community Services District president Mike McTighe. "So fields are saturated, and they haven't drained as well as we'd like."

Spreckels has been under evacuation orders and warnings all week. McTighe said while they've needed water for years, the historic flooding is too extreme.

"We prayed for rain for a bunch of years, and now we got it. So it might be time to stop praying for a little bit," McTighe said.

Screenshot 2023-03-16 at 18-57-17 CNRFC - Hydrology - River Guidance - Graphical RVF - SPRC1.png
California Nevada River Forecast Center
Water level forecast for the Salinas River in Spreckels. NOAA and the California Nevada River Forecast Center predict that the Salinas River in Spreckles will crest at about 26.1 feet on March 17 at about 5 p.m.

Brandt Bates is with the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County. "It's just going to be more time," Bates said. "The farmers are going to have to wait and just let water levels drop before they can go and do any kind of repair or assessment."

An estimated 20,000 acres of fields along the Salinas River flooded earlier this week, Bates said. That's about 10% of the county's irrigated fields.

An initial survey shows Monterey County agriculture suffered hundreds of millions of dollars of damage in January. It's not clear how the recent storms have added to that total.

The county's agriculture production was valued at about $4 billion in 2021.

The Monterey Bay area will get a break from the rain this weekend, but forecasters said another atmospheric river is on the way. It's a weaker storm system and could hit further south, giving residents in the region a break from an onslaught of flood-related damage.

Jonathan Linden is a reporter at 90.3 KAZU in Marina, California. He joined KAZU in October 2022 and had previously reported for fellow NPR-affiliate KVCR in San Bernardino, California.