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Blue Circle

Blue Circle

The motto of the Santa Cruz County Blue Circle is “People Having Fun with Watersheds”

The first Blue Circle was organized by the Resource Conservation District (RCD) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1996 as a way for local agencies, units of government, special interest groups, and concerned citizens to meet and exchange views on natural resource issues affecting residents living in the County’s watersheds. The RCD and NRCS believed that traditional approaches to addressing complex watershed issues were not working. In some cases, the RCD found many organizations and agencies at cross purposes with one another and some that were actually duplicating efforts. The Blue Circle concept was designed to help prevent duplication, break down institutional barriers, improve communication, and essentially humanize (and make fun) the process of creating a strong working relationship between all watershed stakeholders, including local agencies and units of government. The Blue Circle recognizes that social values and perspectives are very much apart of watershed stewardship and that is why, along with interesting presentations on a variety of watershed topics, there is a social “mixer”, complete with food, beverage, information tables form local organizations and a silent auction at every Blue Circle event. Events are held once or twice per year. 

At every other meeting we recognize locals who go above and beyond in their “water work” with the Blue Circle Watershed Champion Awards. Awardees are nominated by their peers and receive a coveted hand made trophy constructed of all recycled materials.

The Blue Circle is not political, nor does it endorse, support, or lobby any issue in any form. There are no meeting minutes or summaries, annual or long-term plans, or tasks to complete. In addition, all Blue Circle gatherings are held in interesting locations such as: art galleries and museums to help improve attendance and offer a more stimulating atmosphere for more effective interaction and communication.

The RCD continues to organize and host the Blue Circle meetings. If you are a local natural resource or water related resource professional, contact the RCD to be added to the mailing and invite list.

Conservation benefit: Healthier watersheds through stronger human relationships.

Who attends?
People living, working, and having fun in watersheds!
Including: City, County and State Parks
Conservation Organizations
Education Institutions
Government Agencies
Farmers and Ranchers
Natural Resource Professionals
Students
Water Districts
Working Lands Managers

RCD Contact: Angie Gruys

Community Water Dialogue

Community Water Dialogue

Recognizing the severity of the groundwater overdraft problem in the Pajaro Valley and the need for locally-driven solutions, landowners, producers, community members, agencies and research partners came together in 2010 to form the Community Water Dialogue. This community-driven forum seeks to advance individual and collective action to bring the aquifer into balance.

Community Water Dialogue members share a commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an important agricultural resource, and a willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices in order to bring our aquifer into balance. All of our members agree to the fundamental principles of this effort:

1) A commitment to protect the Pajaro Valley as an important agricultural resource

2) A willingness to pursue diverse strategies which entail costs and sacrifices in order to bring our aquifer into balance

To learn more about the Community Water Dialogue visit their website below.

CommunityWaterDialogue.org

Conservation benefit: Community driven diverse strategies that bring our aquifer into balance.

Partners:
All stakeholder in the Pajaro Valley

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Early Mitigation Partnership

Early Mitigation Partnership

The Early Mitigation Partnership (“EMP”) is an effort to bring transportation planners together with resource agencies to select, plan, and construct mitigation projects for transportation improvements in an earlier, more streamlined, and more cost-effective manner.

In 2018, the RCD, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, and 11 other transportation and natural resource regulatory agencies entered into the Santa Cruz Early Mitigation Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (EMP MOU). The EMP MOU fosters early and collaborative engagement among transportation and natural resource regulatory agencies to improve predictability and effectiveness of transportation project mitigation to meet regional conservation priorities. Signatories to the EMP MOU include the California Coastal Commission (Commission), California State Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy), CDFW, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CCRWQCB), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), RCD, Santa Cruz County Planning Department, RTC, San Francisco District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Region 9 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Why Do We Need EMP?

  • Fosters coordination among and between public trust resource agencies and transportation agencies and builds a common foundation for collaborative project development.
  • Early engagement leads to better transportation projects, which maximize multiple benefits and minimize negative impacts to natural resources.
  • Leads to increased stakeholder and public confidence in more predictable outcomes for infrastructure and natural resources.
  • Expedites project delivery because negative impacts have been minimized and mitigation has been secured in advance of construction work.
  • Reduces burden on public funds, increasing cost-effectiveness for transportation projects through more efficient planning and project delivery.
  • More effective conservation because mitigation projects are developed to address known, critical, local and regional conservation priorities.

History of the EMP

A successful effort to develop an EMP process within the Elkhorn Slough Watershed inspired Santa Cruz County to use this as a model for its transportation projects. In 2009, the Elkhorn Slough Early Mitigation Partnership (ESEMP) signed an MOU with 11 stakeholders (government and nonprofit) to develop and implement early mitigation planning. The ESEMP has successfully developed specific criteria for advanced mitigation, created a GIS tool for early evaluation of transportation project impacts, identified specific mitigation and conservation areas, and developed a wetland/conservation bank for the Elkhorn Slough Watershed.

In 2009, the Santa Cruz Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP) partners were invited to meet with the ESEMP team and discuss the potential for developing the first county-wide EMP based on the IWRP's success in implementing collaborative conservation in Santa Cruz County. This first meeting led to a series of meetings between interested regulatory agencies, CalTrans, and the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). The partners agreed to move forward and use the Elkhorn MOU as a model. A pilot project using IWRP to identify and implement a mitigation project for the Soquel-Morrissey Highway 1 widening project was completed in 2012. The partner agencies signed the Early Mitigation Partnership MOU for Santa Cruz County in 2018, and meet regularly to coordinate efforts to implement the MOU, for example through the development of a Regional Conservation Investment Strategy.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

Contact Us

Conservation benefit: Wise investment of transportation project mitigation dollars for greatest benefits to species, habitats, and watersheds.

Partners:
California Coastal Commission
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
California State Coastal Conservancy
Caltrans
Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
County of Santa Cruz
National Marine Fisheries Service
Regional Transportation Commission
Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

RCD Contact: Lisa Lurie

Forest Health and Wildfire Resiliency

Forest Health and Wildfire Resiliency

The forests in Santa Cruz Mountains have significantly changed over the past two centuries, due to historic logging practices, land development, and in large part decades of fire suppression. The lack of natural process in our forest has resulted in excessive fuel buildup and invasive species are out-competing native vegetation. These conditions, coupled with extreme drought conditions, a warming climate, arid site-adapted conifer species displacing hardwoods and other sensitive species, are reducing biodiversity, and altering fire regimes. The result has been damaging to our unique ecosystem and will require environmentally sensitive management to redirect the path of changing climates and ecological conditions impacting our forests and community.

There is a clear need in Santa Cruz County to:

  • Improve forest health
  • Create adequate defensible space around homes and infrastructure
  • Minimize fuel loads across larger landscapes
  • Reduce the spread of invasive plants and pathogens
  • Provide technical forestry assistance
  • Provide post-fire landowner assistance to our community

In addition to addressing threats and impacts of wildfire, improved forest management is needed in the region to:

  • Enhance stream and riparian function, protecting our water sources and ensuring we have access to clean, healthy drinking water;
  • Restore critical habitats for threatened and endangered species;
  • Restore the natural forest process to maximize greenhouse gas sequestration; and,
  • Fortify our landscapes to reduce erosion to keep our ingress and egress routes accessible and minimize sediment loading of impaired waterways.
  • Permit forest health and fuels management projects

The Conservation District is dedicated to building healthy and wildfire resilient forests. Through close partnerships with local agencies, organizations, and communities we offer services and programs that help landowners, both public and private, meet forest management goals.

Chipping Program -Promotes defensible space clearance around homes and roads through subsidized and non-cost chipping services of removed vegetation.

Forest Management -Provides resources to public and private landowners to improve forest health, complete vegetation management and create defensible space. Also helps secure funding to implement and manage large-scale collaborative on-the-ground projects.

Expedited Project Permitting - Develop programmatic permits and streamlined permitting tools for forest health and wildfire resiliency projects.

Forest Health and Wildfire Resiliency Regional Collaboration: Collaborating in regional forest and fire groups such as Santa Cruz Mountain Stewardship Network, Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County, and the Coastal Regional Prioritization Group to identify key projects, understand potential barriers, and develop solutions in partnership.

Post-Fire Response - Provides landscape level post-fire recovery resources and education.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

Contact Us

Thanks so much for this program. It really allowed me to bring my neighbors together to work together on our private road and it was great what we were able to do in a few weeks. I am hoping that you will receive funding for similar chipping programs next year. – Britta Buhnemann
I want to send a heartfelt thank you for coming to Terrace Grove Rd a few weeks ago. You were extremely generous with your time to personally meet with 15+ residents, hear their concerns, and meet them where they're at with appropriate recommendations, education, and encouragement. Having you a part of our event initiated discussion and community action in a way that I have not been able to do alone. You provided the groundwork to come together and take things to the next level. Thank you. - Sally Mack, Summit Area

Conservation benefit: Forests that are more resilient to wildfire, enhance wildlife habitat, protect critical water sources, and combat the impacts of climate change

Partners:
Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council
CalFire
California State Parks
County of Santa Cruz
Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
Santa Clara Fire Safe Council
Santa Cruz Mountain Stewardship Network
South Skyline Fire Safe Council

Funders:
California Department of Conservation
CalFire
California Fire Safe Council
California State Coastal Conservancy
County of Santa Cruz
Natural Resource Conservation Service
US Forest Service

Fire Protection & Post Recovery Library

Contact the RCD for more information.

RCD Contact: Matt Abernathy

Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP)

The Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP)

The Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP) grew out of a series of watershed assessments and plans in the late 1990s and early 2000s and has evolved to meet the recognized need for a coordinated, regional process for identifying, funding, and developing key projects to improve fish and wildlife habitat and water quality. Through its Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), IWRP brings together federal, state, and local resource and funding agencies to select and oversee the design and implementation of high priority projects to restore watersheds, first in Santa Cruz County and now also across San Mateo and Monterey Counties. Over the past decades IWRP has been wildly successful in both implementing critical projects and developing a culture of trust and collaboration. IWRP has won national and statewide recognition and continues to be the go-to program for coordinated regional recovery planning, resilience planning, innovating and testing new techniques and technologies, as well as mediation and facilitation to resolve difficult and complex resource needs.

To date the State Coastal Conservancy’s cumulative $9.3 million investment in developing the IWRP program and designing and permitting projects through IWRP has leveraged well over $41 million in implementation investment to complete over 180 restoration projects to-date.

Without IWRP, there wouldn’t be a pipeline of high-priority, well-designed restoration projects that are ready to go for construction funding. This collaborative effort has advanced the pace and scale of coastal watershed restoration in Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Monterey counties and continues to do so due to the time and energy our federal, state, and local resource agencies and conservation partners put into IWRP - Hilary Hill, Project Manager

Want to Learn More About IWRP?

Visit the IWRP Website

Conservation benefit: Increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration on the Central Coast through inter-agency collaboration and engagement.

Partners:
California Coastal Commission
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Counties of Monterey, San Mateo and Santa Cruz
NOAA Fisheries
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
Regional Water Quality Control Boards
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
State Coastal Conservancy
US Fish and Wildlife Service
US Army Corps of Engineers
USDA Natural Resources Conservation District
Wildlife Conservation Board

Funders:
California State Coastal Conservancy
Multiple for Construction

RCD Contact: Daniel Nylen

Project Permitting

Project Permitting

Many large and small scale conservation projects require permits from a number of local, State, and even Federal agencies. Navigating the permit process can be costly, confusing, frustrating, and time consuming. That process of applying for, obtaining, and paying for permits has been recognized as a significant barrier for farmers and landowners wanting to implement voluntary conservation measures. The RCD has expertise in securing the permits landowners may need before starting work. The RCD can help landowners secure required permits, including permits issued by the County of Santa Cruz, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Coastal Commission. Some common projects that may require permits include removing obstructions or debris from creeks and streams, stabilizing eroding land, including gullies and streambanks, and improving rural roads. Permits are almost always required when:

  • Working in or near a waterway, riparian area, or wetland.
  • Grading land or clearing vegetation
  • Working in any area where endangered species may be affected.

In addition to providing technical assistance with securing permits, the RCD has developed two programs that streamline project permitting to speed the process and substantially decrease the cost for some projects.

Partners in Restoration Permit Coordination program (PIR) which provides a “one-stop-shop” for permitting 15 different types of conservation projects that meet certain guidelines and specifications, thereby removing the time, cost, and complexity of individual project review.

Forest Health and Fire Resiliency Public Works Plan (PWP) which provides cost-effective, programmatic permitting for forest health and fuels management projects to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve ecological conditions for forests, woodlands, and grasslands specifically within the coastal zone. A PWP is a programmatic alternative to project-by-project review for projects that otherwise would require individual coastal development permits. Read more about the RCD’s PWP here.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

Contact Us

Conservation benefit: Help landowners and land managers to voluntarily implement conservation, forest health and fuels management projects by reducing the time, cost, and complexity of project permitting.

Partners:
CalFire
California Coastal Commission
California State Parks
County of Santa Cruz
National Marine Fisheries Service
Regional Water Quality Control Board
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
US Army Corps of Engineers
US Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Funders:
United State Environmental Protection Agency
Regional Water Resources Control Board
County of Santa Cruz

Would you like to assistance with your private
road? Contact the RCD for more information.

RCD Contacts:
PIR and other: Kelli Camara
PWP: Matt Abernathy

Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS)

Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS)

Santa Cruz County is a global biodiversity hot spot known and valued for its globally rare natural communities such as old-growth redwood forests, Santa Cruz sandhills, karst caves, coastal prairie grasslands, and maritime chaparral; as well as its diverse and endemic plant and animal species. These unique and diverse biological systems are essential to conservation of biodiversity, have critical cultural importance, and provide a wealth of goods and services that support our quality of life (including crop pollination, water infiltration, flood protection, carbon sequestration, climate change adaptation, working lands production, recreation and tourism. Santa Cruz County’s natural capital provides at least $800 million to $2.2 billion in benefits to people and the local economy each year (Schmidt et al. 2015).

Santa Cruz County has been the focal point of many watershed and conservation planning efforts to protect and restore biological systems and recover rare species while safeguarding the region’s other conservation values, including working lands and water resources, while allowing orderly development and development and maintenance of essential public infrastructure.

Together with the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, the RCD is leading the development of the Santa Cruz County Regional Conservation Investment Strategy (RCIS). The aim is to leverage the wealth of local knowledge and conservation planning into a comprehensive regional strategy to protect Santa Cruz County’s unique biodiversity and the ecological communities that support it and promote resilience to foreseeable pressures and stressors. Administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the RCIS Program was established to encourage voluntary, non-regulatory regional planning specifically to direct mitigation funds to the highest, best conservation actions. The RCIS Program uses a science-based approach to identify conservation and enhancement opportunities that, if implemented, will help California's declining and vulnerable species by protecting, creating, restoring, and reconnecting habitat and may contribute to species recovery and adaptation to climate change and resiliency. The focus of the RCIS is on conservation of biodiversity while added benefits of the RCIS are conservation of ecosystem services such as recreation, wildfire risk reduction, or flood risk reduction. And while the RCIS is a program of the CDFW, the RCD’s goal is to also address other resource agency needs and make the RCIS more broadly applicable as a roadmap for guiding conservation investment within our county.

The Santa Cruz County RCIS is being developed with ample engagement of extensive technical advisors and stakeholders, as well as with opportunities for broader public participation. For more information visit: https://sccrtc.org/funding-planning/environmental/rcis/.

Conservation benefit: Facilitate regional planning to help guide conservation investments (and generate new conservation investments) to the highest conservation actions in the County.

Partners:
Cal Trans
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
California State Parks
Land Trust of Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Funders:
Wildlife Conservation Board

RCD Contact: Lisa Lurie

Scotts Creek Coastal Resiliency Project

Scotts Creek Coastal Resiliency Project

Scotts Creek is a small coastal watershed north of the unincorporated town of Davenport along Highway 1 in northern Santa Cruz County, CA. The Scotts Creek lagoon and marsh ecosystem provides a mosaic of critical habitat for a variety of native biota. It supports Coho salmon and steelhead trout which are both listed as “endangered” and “threatened” respectively. It is also critical habitat for red legged frogs, western pond turtles, tidewater gobies, and other sensitive wildlife, including snowy plovers, that use the beach areas. It is among the most biologically significant watersheds in the Central Coast region and in all of California and has been a focal point of research on natural resource management, hydrology, and fisheries for decades. The natural function of the watershed has been degraded due to land use changes, most notably from the construction of the Highway 1 bridge over Scotts Creek. This has resulted in extensive filling of the historic estuary and significant alterations to the breaching dynamics of the lagoon. Additionally, the bridge is past its useful life span and the highway corridor is precariously positioned in relation to projected impacts from sea level rise and coastal erosion.

To address impacts to this critical coastal wetland and aging infrastructure, the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCDSCC), the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 5, along with other State and Federal resource agencies, are collaborating to develop a strategy to address the public access, conservation, and climate change resiliency of the Scotts Creek estuary. Planning and design phases of this project have been funded through leveraging of local and other grant funds to obtain additional resources including Proposition 1 and 68 grants from the California State Coastal Conservancy and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This project provides a new planning paradigm for major transportation projects wherein infrastructure design is predicated on understanding and addressing ecological resource needs, resulting in enhanced resiliency of both ecosystems and infrastructure. It offers a transferrable model of how consensus-based collaboration leads to more innovative, effective, and efficient use of public funds to support public access and safety, coastal resilience, public trust, and ecosystem enhancement. The work accomplished thus far was made possible through a long-standing multi-agency partnership and strategic collaboration. Continued collaboration will result in:

  • Implementation of a major recovery action for endangered Coho salmon and a suite of other listed species
  • Ecological restoration of a diverse coastal resource
  • Protection of critical transportation infrastructure along the coast
  • Improved community and highway resilience in the face of climate change and sea level rise
  • Improved public coastal access
  • Job creation to support economic recovery

Contact the RCD for assistance.

Contact Us

Conservation benefit: A resilient, multi-functional transportation corridor that protects vital infrastructure from climate change impacts while restoring critical habitat.

Partners:
California Coastal Commission
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
California Polytechnic State University
California State Coastal Conservancy
Caltrans
Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
County of Santa Cruz
National Marine Fisheries Service
Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Funders:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
California State Coastal Conservancy
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Wildlife Conservation Board

Contact the RCD for more information.

RCD Contact: Daniel Nylen

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    Capitola, California 95010
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