Credit: Twitter / California Department of Water Resources
The town of Pajaro flooded when a levee holding back the Pajaro River breached on March 10.

Gov. Newsom announced a series of flood mitigation measures in the May revision of his budget proposal, totaling $492 million — $290 million more than January’s proposal.

None of those measures specifically addresses the unique challenges California’s K-12 schools face. One out of five schools faces a high or moderate risk of flooding.

This year, the Planada Elementary School District in Merced County and Pajaro Unified School District in Monterey County faced widespread damage caused by flooding. Schools in the Central Valley are preparing for the prospect of flooding, with little guidance from the state as record snowpack in the Sierra begins to melt.

Some of Newsom’s proposals are long-term flood mitigation investments, which he says is crucial, given the state’s increasingly extreme weather.

“California is facing unprecedented weather whiplash – we just experienced the driest three years on record, and now we’re dealing with historic flooding,” he said in a statement. “Our investments must match this reality of climate-driven extremes.”

Other proposals aim at addressing the urgent needs of the state as it recovers from heavy storms this March and faces the prospect of flooding in the Central Valley in the coming months. That includes using an additional $125 million, previously earmarked for drought, to address flood preparedness, response and recovery. It also includes an additional $25 million for any unanticipated emergency needs related to this year’s storms and flooding.

The administration proposed $75 million to support local flood control projects, including the Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project. Another $40 million is proposed for San Joaquin Floodplain restoration, which was yanked from an earlier proposal. The Newsom Administration has proposed raising the levees in Corcoran, where sinking land, caused by groundwater overpumping, means levees need to be rebuilt for a third time.

Water experts told EdSource that as snow melts this year, Central Valley areas including Firebaugh, Mendota and the Tulare Lake Basin are at particular risk.

Schools play a unique role in many rural communities affected by flooding. Unincorporated towns lack the civic infrastructure of many other towns and schools step up to fill that void.

When the unincorporated town of Alpaugh was evacuated in March due to flooding, the school shut down, but its facilities and staff provided a crucial nexus for community looking for food, supplies and emergency information. Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified said that, in the event of a flood, it plans to use its bus fleet to transport community members, once its students and staffers have been taken care of.

Legislature has discussed authorizing the state to acquire portable classrooms so that schools can have them quickly in the event of a disaster in a future bond measure. This was not addressed in this May budget revision.

Flood mitigation measures can be extremely costly. The city of Firebaugh commissioned a study that concluded that it would need $140 million to fix the weakened levees. Newsom said that the state has spent $1.3 billion on flood protection since 2019.

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