Record wet winter inflicted more than $210 million in damage to California parks

A horizontal view of a beach parking lot  washed out and littered with debris.
A parking lot at Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, Calif., was damaged by heavy storm surge in January.
(Nic Coury / Associated Press)

California’s historic wet winter inflicted at least $210 million in damage to the state’s parks during storms in January and March, with a popular state beach near Santa Cruz accounting for nearly half of that damage, according to a state report submitted to federal officials.

The damage estimate was included in a report submitted by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the state’s efforts to get federal aid to make repairs to the parks.


Of the state’s 280 parks, 85 were listed in the report, which estimated the damage from January storms alone was $187 million. Another storm event in March resulted in at least $23 million in damage, but that estimate is expected to rise.

Among the storm-damaged parks, 15 had estimates of more than $1 million in damage each, with the highest numbers concentrated on the central coast.

The total for repairs across the state could be as much as $1 billion, authorities said.

Jan. 17, 2023

Seacliff State Beach, near Santa Cruz, suffered more than $100 million in damage after storms battered its pier in January, according to the report.

In addition to destroying the pier, January storms “destroyed nearly all of the seawall and much of the fill material on which the campground was built,” state parks wrote in February. “Much of the underground utilities were lost to the sea, as was the parking lot pavement.”

California endured 31 atmospheric river storms this winter, one of the wettest and coldest in recorded history. Storms killed people, stranded others and damaged infrastructure.

Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument in San Luis Obispo County saw more than $19 million in damage, and Santa Barbara County’s El Capitán State Beach had nearly $12 million.


A NOAA expert thinks the costs of the atmospheric river hitting California could top $1 billion.

Jan. 10, 2023

At Hearst Castle, rain caused flooding and downed power lines, leading the monument to close in mid-January, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune. At El Capitán, storms damaged waterlines, some of which still await repair, according to the state parks’ website.

“State Parks has already completed some of the repairs,” said Jorge Moreno, a spokesman for California State Parks, including “debris cleanup, emergency repairs or protecting structures.”

“The department is taking a phase approach on projects that require long-term repairs with some work potentially taking up to five years,” he said.

An onslaught of atmospheric rivers hit California this winter, exposing the delicate balance of the systems that provide critical water and can prompt dangerous floods.

April 11, 2023

It is unclear when FEMA will respond to the state’s report, and what funding might be allocated for park repairs.

The list of January damages will be updated as the parks department continues to assess and repair, according to Moreno.

“FEMA has not yet closed the event and additional counties are still being declared,” Moreno said, adding that a similarly detailed list of damaged parks will become available once the event is closed.