The model of a streamlined permitting approach was first developed by NRCS and Sustainable Conservation in 1998 in the Elkhorn Slough Watershed in Monterey County, California, to assist landowners who were faced with resource concerns associated with steep slopes, sandy soils and intensive agricultural production.
Permit Coordination is based on a model of coordinated, multi-agency regulatory review that ensures the integrity of agency mandates, but makes permitting more accessible to rural landowners, farmers, and ranchers than does the traditional approval process. The permits and agreements that are issued by the regulatory agencies for this Program are valid for five years (with the exception of the Master Permit from the County which must be extended after the first three years) and authorize multiple activities that fall within the limits of the permit conditions. While this coordination makes the permit process much simpler for the landowner, it places additional responsibility on NRCS and RCD staff to include regulatory conditions in the project designs and specifications, to monitor the activities to ensure that the conditions of the permits and agreements are met, and to report back to the regulatory agencies on a regular basis throughout the year.
The conservation projects we think are appropriate for approval under the program are relatively small in size, have demonstrated a net environmental benefit, and are usually performed for erosion control or restoration in and around waterways. The work authorized under Permitting Coordination revolves around NRCS conservation practices, also known as best management practices (BMPs) or management measures. These practices, when applied in the appropriate setting, help landowners and land managers improve the productivity of their operations and protect and improve the natural functioning of adjacent and nearby natural areas. These standardized practices are selected from the NRCS’s California Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) and mirror the BMPs promoted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)to help meet Clean Water Act (CWA) mandates and the BMPs included in Management Measures promoted by the California Coastal Commission and the State Water Resources Control Board in the Plan for California’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. The NRCS and RCD staffs have selected fifteen conservation practices from the NRCS's Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) that address local land use and resource problems in Santa Cruz County. The environmental protection measures and conditions associated with implementation of any of these practices, as negotiated with regulatory agencies, will be specific to the resource concerns present in Santa Cruz County.
Coordinated watershed planning efforts are underway throughout the County, many of them sponsored by the State Coastal Conservancy. The Integrated Watershed Restoration Program is a countywide multi-jurisdictional task force formed to integrate watershed restoration efforts, improve coordination and efficiency, and leverage funds for restoration activities within Santa Cruz County. The RCD and the Coastal Watershed Council are co-leads on the task force, with participating partners that include local, state, and federal agencies, water districts, harbor districts, fire districts, local road associations, watershed councils, community groups, and local landowners and it is funded by the State Coastal Conservancy. In most cases, these watershed plans rely on voluntary conservation efforts on private lands to fulfill their recommendations. Permit Coordination facilitates implementation of many of the recommendations outlined in the regional watershed plans and those under development as well as meets the particular needs of landowners throughout the County.