(831) 464-2950

Ag Irrigation Efficiency/ Water Conservation

Ag Irrigation Efficiency/ Water Conservation

Agriculture in the Pajaro Valley is nearly wholly dependent on irrigation. Being disconnected from the large infrastructure projects that move water around the state means that irrigation water must come from underground aquifers. Unfortunately, after decades of use and overuse, the aquifer lying beneath the Pajaro Valley has been classified as ‘critically overdrafted’. This means that more water is pumped out of the aquifer than is put back in. This leads to reduced water quality and saltwater intrusion – a process in which seawater replaces the groundwater that previously existed. The RCD’s water conservation efforts work to bring balance back to the hydrology that supports our local agricultural community.

The RCD actively supports local agriculture to sustainably manage groundwater supply and achieve our conservation goals. The goal for the Pajaro Valley is to conserve 5,000 acre-feet of water per year, primarily through improved irrigation efficiency. We partner with the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, UC Cooperative Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and others to help to support growers in their efforts to increase irrigation efficiency by improving the operation of their system and optimizing scheduling.

Experts at the RCD are available to provide FREE technical assistance and irrigation trainings to growers, ranch managers and irrigators. There is also financial assistance through grants and other programs to cover the costs of replacing old or less efficient irrigation equipment with more efficient equipment, and to cover costs for growers to trial new, more efficient practices.

Types of direct assistance available to growers include:

  • Irrigation system efficiency evaluations
  • Expert recommendations to improve the design and management of the irrigation system
  • Financial assistance including
    • Rebates and cost-share assistance from PV Water to implement expert-recommendations, and to trial new irrigation practices
    • NRCS financial assistance
    • Assistance applying for grants
  • Irrigation monitoring
  • Soil moisture monitoring
  • Irrigator trainings on drip or sprinkler systems, in groups or individually
  • Workshops and trainings on many topics based on grower interests
  • Nutrient management assistance may also be included with irrigation efficiency assistance, depending on the grower’s goals

Assistance is provided in both English and Spanish.

Would you like to schedule a field consult, or get more information? Contact us or Call (831) 464-2950 x10.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability by reducing groundwater pumping and protects water quality by reducing runoff of water, nutrients and sediment

Partners:
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Groundwater Management Agency
UC Cooperative Extension

Funders:
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
California Department of Food and Agriculture

Ag Resources Library

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Assistance for Licensed Cannabis Growers

Assistance for Licensed Cannabis Growers

Legalization of cannabis has driven changes in land use and environmental management in Santa Cruz County. Commercial cannabis growers seeking a licensure must adhere to requirements from several agencies that help to protect our soil, water and wildlife resources.

Santa Cruz County watersheds drain into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. They provide critical ecosystem services to local human and wildlife populations, including habitat for many protected species, flood protection, and clean water supply. Efficient crop production practices are necessary to avoid negative impacts to watersheds from nutrients, sediment, and other activities associated with crop production. Because Santa Cruz County is entirely dependent on local sources of water, irrigation efficiency is an important part of cannabis production.

RCD provides legal cannabis growers with confidential site visits and technical assistance to plan and implement best management practices that protect the watershed, support growers with regulatory compliance requirements, and improve the efficiency of their production practices while optimizing yields.

The RCD offers assistance with planning and implementation of best management practices that protect soil and water resources to licensed and permitted cannabis growers in Santa Cruz County. We can help growers improve efficiency and with environmental compliance including:

Assistance with the GRASS - C self-certification program

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Helping licensed cannabis growers identify and implement best management practices to protect soil, water and wildlife resources in their watershed.

Partners:
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
Resources Legacy Fund

Funders:
Resources Legacy Fund

Licensed Cannabis Resource Libary

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

Best Management Practices on Farms and Ranches

Best Management Practices on Farms and Ranches

RCD provides growers across the county with confidential site visits, technical and financial assistance to plan and implement best management practices that protect water and soil resources, support producers in meeting regulatory compliance requirements, and improve the efficiency of their production practices while optimizing yields.

We help growers and landowners with a wide range of practices that include:

  • Irrigation efficiency
  • Erosion control
  • Nutrient management
  • Cover crops
  • Vegetative treatments (filter strips, grassed waterways, hedgerows)
  • Carbon rich soil amendments (including assistance with nitrogen immobilization)
  • Tailwater and stormwater management
  • Improving water infiltration
  • Promoting pollinator habitat
  • Tailwater treatment using bioreactors, biochar, and other methods

Site visits and technical assistance are available in English and Spanish.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability, protects water quality and supports soil health and productivity.

Partners:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
University of California, Cooperative Extension

Funders:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
California Department of Water Resources
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
State Water Resources Control Board

Ag Resource Libary

RCD Contact:
Erin McCarthy
Sacha Lozano

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

Carbon Farming

Carbon Farming

As the impacts from climate change continue to worsen and spread, there is an urgent need to accelerate adoption of mitigation solutions and act promptly. Agriculture sits at a crossroads where impacts, causes and solutions of this global problem merge but can also be shifted to achieve favorable outcomes. While agricultural practices have historically contributed to global warming through a progressive net-loss of carbon from the large planetary soil pool (mainly because of soil cultivation), carbon farming offers an opportunity to reverse this trend and restore balance by shifting management to achieve a net increase in farm-systems carbon.

Carbon farming takes carbon from the atmosphere where due to its excess it has become a harmful greenhouse gas and puts it into plants and soil where it is helpful. Though often taken for granted, carbon is the keystone to nutrient cycling, water balance, and soil fertility in all farming systems.

Carbon farmers act as climate heroes by reviving centuries-old techniques to improve soil health, reduce erosion, save water, and enhance wildlife habitat while increasing the productivity and resilience of their lands.

How does it work? Carbon farming makes farms and ranches a part of the solution to too much carbon in the atmosphere while restoring and improving soil health.

Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon from the air and store it in their leaves, stems, and roots to produce food, fiber, fuel, and flora. But plants also transform carbon into sugars that are released through their roots to feed a vast microbial food web and enrich the soil. As these root exudates enter the soil, carbon becomes bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes, insects, etc. And as these microbes multiply, thrive, and die, nutrients get recycled and stable carbon can accumulate in the soil. So, moving excess carbon from the atmospheric pool to the half-empty planetary soil pool is a win-win that addresses the climate change problem and augments farm productivity and resiliency.

Whether soil carbon within a farm system stays and accumulates in the soil or it is released back into the atmosphere largely depends on management decisions and actions. Carbon farming applies centuries-old agricultural solutions to the modern problem of excess carbon. Techniques such as windbreak and streamside plantings, carbon-rich soil amendments, rotational grazing, and manure and tillage management create healthier soils and help store carbon for a long time.

Healthier soils hold more water and are less susceptible to heat and drought. This reduces irrigation costs and local water demand. Managing plantings, grazing, tillage, and waste to store more carbon and nutrients can increase productivity, as well as provide wildlife and pollinator habitat. By preventing erosion, and even catastrophic property loss, these practices also protect the land. Combined, these investments mean a more resilient farm or ranch, both now and in the face of future changes.

Carbon Farm Planning places carbon at the center of the planning process and views carbon as the single most important element, upon which all other on-farm processes depend. Following the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s conservation planning approach, Carbon Farm Plans identify and guide strategic adoption of practices that can directly benefit farms and ranches by improving:

  • soil health
  • water holding capacity
  • crop and forage production
  • soil carbon stock and resilience to climate change

Carbon Farm Plans can be developed for natural and working lands including rangelands, forests, croplands and orchards.

How the RCD can help. We can support producers and landowners to conduct conservation planning on their working lands through a carbon lens, and provide a broad array of services and resources to help them meet their goals related to carbon farming including:

  • Develop a carbon farm plan
  • Identify and facilitate adoption of specific carbon farming practices
  • Provide technical advice on use of cover crops, compost, and other carbon-rich soil amendments
  • Design and plant hedgerows
  • Facilitate access to technical and financial assistance through local, State and Federal programs.

The RCD is part of a statewide carbon farm planning network involving multiple RCDs, the Carbon Cycle Institute, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, land trusts, and support organizations such as Fibershed across California. These organizations are at various stages of working with landowners in developing and implementing carbon farm plans and activities.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Carbon Farming Workshops

Conservation benefit: Increasing carbon sequestration, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing demands on local water sources, and enhancing wildlife and pollinator habitat

Partners:
California Association of Resource Conservations Districts
California State University Chico (Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems)
CalPoly Swanton Pacific Ranch
Carbon Cycle Institute
Natural Resource Conservation Service
San Mateo Resource Conservation District

Funders:
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California State Coastal Conservancy
CalPoly Swanton Pacific Ranch
Patagonia

RCD Contact: Sacha Lozano

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.

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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

Erosion Control On Ag Land

Erosion Control On Ag Land

When natural vegetation is cleared and farmland is ploughed, the exposed topsoil is often blown away by wind or washed away by rain. Rain and other natural forces can also create larger erosion issues like gullies or bank instability. This often results in the loss of valuable topsoil. The soil carried away in rain or irrigation water can also lead to sedimentation and eutrophication of rivers, creeks and coastal areas, which can impact wildlife habitat. Some food safety practices make managing erosion even more challenging.

The benefits of controlling erosion may include higher crop yields, healthier and more productive soils, drought and rainfall resilience, cleaner air and water, compatibility with wildlife and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

The RCD offers confidential site visits and works closely with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and many other partners to provide expert technical assistance and financial resources to address erosion. We help landowners and growers in many ways from reduced till, cover cropping, contour farming, vegetative barriers to working with engineers to address larger issues like gullies or unstable banks.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Erosion control preserves soil supporting productivity, stability and resiliency on the farm while keeping sediment out of waterways where it can have detrimental impacts on wildlife.

Partners:
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Funders:
Natural Resources Conservation Service

RCD Contacts:
Sacha Lozano
Erin McCarthy

Fish Passage

Fish Passage and Habitat Connectivity

Salmon and other migrating fish need access to freshwater habitat for spawning and rearing. In some cases, these fish need to swim thousands of miles through the oceans and rivers to reach their destination, but they are often blocked from completing their journey by man-made barriers, such as dams and culverts. These barriers can be removed or replaced with full span bridges or other crossings and will hopefully lead to an increase in our fish populations, returning them to levels we haven’t seen in the last few decades but hope to see again.

In Santa Cruz County, Steelhead populations are threatened but can be improved with good stream care. Coho salmon are critically endangered and may become locally extinct without serious efforts to improve their stream habitat.

The RCD is committed to the appropriate removal or modification of barriers that block fish passage and habitat. We work collaboratively with both public and private landowners to identify projects and secure grant funding to plan, permit and pay for removal of obstacles to fish migration.

We have led or collaborated on the following dam removals and passage improvements in Santa Cruz County.

Working with many local partners we are also exploring alternatives for improving fish passage along the Branciforte Creek Flood Control Channel in downtown Santa Cruz.

We are continually looking for new projects throughout the County.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: To aid in recovery of threatened and endangered salmon and other fish species through the removal of physical barriers that impede fish migration and block habitat.

Partners:
County of Santa Cruz
City of Santa Cruz
Integrated Watershed Restoration Program
Sempervirens Fund

Funders:
California State Coastal Conservancy
County of Santa Cruz

Stream Care Guide

Stream Resources library

RCD Contact: Daniel Nylen

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.

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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

Forest Management and Stewardship

Forest Management and Stewardship

Santa Cruz County is continually threatened by catastrophic wildfire, particularly in the wildland-urban interface. Local topography and fuels make the County subject to periodic wildfires. Combined with 100 years of effective fire suppression, these conditions have led to uncharacteristically high fuel loads.

The RCD engages in forest health activities that focus on restoration and reengaging natural forest ecosystem processes to ensure the future of resilient and sustained forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This includes mitigating climate change and protecting communities from catastrophic wildfire. By thoughtfully reducing uncharacteristic wildland fuels and removing infected or diseased vegetation the potential for severe wildland fire decreases. This lessens post-fire damage, minimized soil erosion and the impacts to water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and limits the spread of invasive species and diseases.

The RCD has a long history of collaborating with the local community and agency stakeholders to provide technical and cost-share assistance to improve forest ecosystems, reduce wildfire threat. We also work with Cal Fire and local FSCs to identify and implement high priority fire breaks as outlined in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan

More specially, the RCD offers planning and implementation of forest health projects for local landowners.

Planning services

Upon request, the RCD can tour your property and provide information about the general conditions of your land, discuss your goals for your land and recommend practices to reach those goals. We can also advise on permits or pathways that may be needed or of use when completing projects on your property.

In addition to site specific technical assistance, the RCD can discuss developing a Forest Management Plan (FMP) the most useful and essential tool. An FMP describes the current conditions of your property and acts as a manual to guide the vision and goals for managing your land. Working directly with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), in our shared local partnership office, we can also help you navigate NRCS cost-share programs such as Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ca/programs/financial/eqip/, that may cover a portion of the planning and implementation cost of your FMP.

Project Implementation

Each year, working with both private and public landowners, the RCD utilizes available grant opportunities to fund the implementation of fuel load reduction, fire breaks and forest health projects. Our team may help to:

  • Develop treatment prescriptions
  • Prepare bids and hire contactors to complete the work
  • Manage on-the-ground projects to ensure prescriptions are adhered to
  • Helps perform necessary mitigations when needed

We prioritize projects that have multiple resource benefits, with a special emphasis on areas where the fire regime has departed from its natural trajectory and needs ecological restoration to regain ecosystem processes, conditions, and resiliency.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Matt Abernathy from the RCD made specific on-site observations and produced a written report that explained clearly how homeowners and public land managers could be more effective in reducing wildfire risks that threaten public health and safety for all of us. Our Highland Firewise volunteer group will use Matt’s recommendations as we work with green space managers and private landowners to advocate stronger measures for wildfire safety. – Anne and Denny Highland Area

Conservation benefit: Healthy forest that are more resilient to wildfire, enhance wildlife habitat, protect critical water sources, and combat affects of climate change.

Partners:
CalFire California State Parks
County of Santa Cruz
Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County
Natural Resource Conservation Service
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
Santa Cruz Mountain Stewardship Network

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

Forest Health/ Fire Resources Library

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

Livestock and Land

Livestock and Land

Nutrients, pathogens and sediments from livestock facilities are pollutants of concern in watersheds throughout California. This pollution critically impacts our drinking water, recreation areas, fisheries health and flora and fauna habitat. Better management of manure and drainage on properties that house livestock can lessen these pollutants.

The Livestock and Land program strives to teach Best Management Practices (BMPs) to area livestock and equine owners by providing educational publications, workshops and hands-on trainings. The program helps landowners wanting to construct conservation projects on their properties. Additional services, made available through the RCD partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), include free on-site consultations and technical assistance. The NRCS has been a key partner in the delivery and development of this program.

Last year we were fortunate to attend a Livestock and Land workshop that helped us understand different concepts for better managing our land. With both financial and technical assistance from the Resource Conservation District and our local USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service office we were able to put into place a plan to benefit our cattle, improve the efficiency of our operation, and protect the environment. - Tashana Burke, Burke Ranch

The RCD can provide services related to the following practices:

  • Composting
  • Drainage
  • Mud and manure management
  • Pasture management

The benefits to your property or ranch by incorporating BMPS include:

  • Enrich animal health
  • Ease operations
  • Enhance land aesthetics
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce flies
  • May increase property value
  • Improve local air and water quality
  • Boost neighborhood relationships

More information on these practices can be found at livestockandland.org

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Immediate and lasting water quality and watershed improvements by helping livestock owners to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) on their properties.

Partners:
County of Santa Cruz
Ecology Action
Multiple Resource Conservation Districts
Natural Resource Conservation Service

Funders (current & past):
County of Santa Cruz
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Regional Water Quality Control Board
US Environmental Protection Agency

Livestock and Land Resources

RCD Contact: Angie Gruys

Managed Aquifer Recharge

Managed Aquifer Recharge

The Pajaro Valley Groundwater Basin includes about 75,000 acres in southern Santa Cruz County, northern Monterey County, and a small portion of western San Benito County. The area supports a unique and valuable agriculture industry producing high value fruit, vegetable, flower, and other crops. In addition to providing water for about 30,000 acres of commercial crop production, the basin supplies water for the City of Watsonville, rural residential homes, and supports riparian and estuarine habitat for protected species like steelhead and California red-legged frog.

An average of 55,000 acre-feet of water is used each year to meet the water demand in the Pajaro Valley. The vast majority of that water is extracted from the groundwater basin, and most of it is used to irrigate commercial crops. There is no imported water supply. Over the past several decades, groundwater pumping has led to an overdraft of the groundwater basin. Lowered water levels eventually caused seawater to intrude into freshwater aquifers.

Distributed Stormwater Collection and Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is a landscape management strategy that can help to reduce aquifer overdraft and maintain long-term water supply reliability. These types of projects collect and infiltrate excess hillslope runoff before it reaches a stream by using a variety of techniques including streambank filtration, dry wells, and dedicated infiltration basins.

In 2014, the RCD partnered with UCSC’s Hydrogeology Group, securing support from the California State Coastal Conservancy, to complete a Regional MAR and Runoff Analysis for Santa Cruz and Northern Monterey Counties, and to develop information and decision support tools to optimize storm runoff collection and MAR project design. More information about that work can be found by clicking here.

Distributed Stormwater Collection and Managed Aquifer Recharge Data

Recharge Net Metering Program

Through a local collaborative effort, private landowners, the RCD, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, and University of California Santa Cruz are implementing the Recharge Net Metering Program (ReNeM), that incentivizes private landowners to install MAR systems on their land. These MAR stormwater collection and infiltration systems are carefully designed and managed to provide benefits to both groundwater supply and water quality.

To promote the construction of MAR projects, the ReNeM Program gives rebates on a landowner’s water bill. The amount varies based on the volume of water infiltrated through the system that is installed. This helps offset the costs of operation and maintenance of the system. Participating landowners are making a valuable contribution to the Pajaro Valley groundwater supply.

Project Under Consideration:
Curtis Infiltration Pond

Selected Projects:
Bokariza-Drobac Infiltration Basin
Kelly Thompson Recharge Basin
Storrs Water and Sediment Control Project

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Supports long-term groundwater sustainability by adding high quality water to our groundwater supply.

Partners:
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
Private Landowners
University of California Santa Cruz

Funders:
California Department of Water Resources
California State Coastal Conservancy
Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (via UCSC)
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency
Private Landowners
State Water Resources Control Board
University of California at Santa Cruz

RCD Contact: Erin McCarthy

We would like to see efforts of this kind extended across the region and around the state, using successes from the Central Coast as a modifiable, flexible template for incentivizing more sustainable resource stewardship. - Dr. Andy Fisher, UCSC

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.

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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

Rural Roads Program

Rural Roads Program

For many residents, property owners and land managers in the Santa Cruz mountains the only access to their properties are only along private rural roadways that are often steep and unpaved. Erosion and washouts of both paved and unpaved roads disrupt access and can lead to costly repairs and annual maintenance. Additionally, the soil erosion and runoff from these roads can pollute streams with excess sediment causing damage to habitat for fish and other wildlife, and increase flooding issues downstream. Keeping these roads in good condition is even more urgent now to ensure safe ingress and egress in the event of a wildfire.

Assistance for Private Road Owners.The RCD provides private road associations, County Service Areas (CSA), and individuals with on-site technical and financial assistance to help improve the conditions of rural roads. We help identify erosion and drainage problems, develop erosion control plans, and may be able to provide cost share assistance to help construct road improvement projects on both private and public lands for qualified projects. Some of our recommended improvements include installing properly sized culverts, contouring the road surface, and applying rock to unpaved roads and culvert outlets to minimize erosion.

We also hold technical trainings and workshops for local residents and contractors related to best management practices for both paved and unpaved roads. We also maintain a library of publications related to private road maintenance and repair.

Formation of Road Associations. A road association is a voluntary organization of property owners that share road access. Road associations can be useful for providing overall road maintenance and improvement plans, ensuring access for emergency vehicles, sharing the costs of road maintenance and improvements, and developing a communications network for a localized community disaster plan. Road associations do not necessarily need the involvement of governmental associations to form and operate. We have compiled a library of resources for individuals or groups interested in forming a road association.

Need Assistance With Your Private Road?

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Conservation benefit: Protect and improve habitat for aquatic species by helping to reduce road derived sediment in local waterways.

Partners:
City of Santa Cruz Water Department
San Lorenzo Valley Water District
County of Santa Cruz
Integrated Watershed Restoration Program

Funders:
US Environmental Protection Agency
Regional Water Quality Control Board
County of Santa Cruz

Rural Roads Resource Library

RCD Contact: Angie Gruys

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

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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

Soil Health

Soil Health

Soil is the foundation of agricultural production and land-based food systems. It is a living ecosystem that provides a wide array of essential services for plants, animals, and humans, including nutrient and carbon cycling, water storage, climate regulation, “waste” assimilation and transformation, information networking, and food provision for the vast majority of organisms living on land. Soil health is broadly defined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Therefore, a mindful and proactive stewardship of soil health in agricultural lands is of paramount importance. 

Managing for soil health (maintaining and improving soil ecosystem function) is mostly a matter of protecting its physical and chemical integrity and maintaining suitable habitat for the myriad of microscopic creatures that comprise the soil food web. NRCS identifies four principles for an adequate stewardship of soil health: 

  • Maintain soil cover throughout the year
  • Minimize soil disturbance
  • Maintain living roots throughout the year
  • Support diversity of the soil’s microbial and vegetation community
And there is a complementary fifth principle within the framework of Regenerative Agriculture.
  • Incorporate grazing animals (whenever possible)
The RCD focuses on farm management practices that support optimal soil organic matter, soil structure, soil depth, and water and nutrient holding capacity. We provide direct assistance to growers including:
  • Technical and financial assistance to implement best management practices such as cover crops, compost, mulch, reduced till and more
  • Soil health assessments and monitoring
  • Field trials evaluating the impacts of various soil amendments and management practices on soil condition and crop yields
  • Identification of site-specific opportunities and practices to improve soil management 

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Soil works for you if you work for the soil by using management practices that improve soil health and increase productivity and profitability immediately and into the future. - USDA NRCS

Conservation benefit: Restore and augment soil organic matter and biodiversity to improve carbon drawdown, water and nutrient cycling and fertility to support agricultural production

Partners:
Agriculture Land-Based Training Association
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
California FarmLink
California State University Monterey Bay
Kitchen Table Advisors
Local Farmers and Ranchers
Loma Prieta Resource Conservation District
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Resource Conservation District of Monterey County
San Benito Resource Conservation District
San Mateo Resource Conservation District
University of California Cooperative Extension
USDA – Agricultural Research Service

Funders:
California Department of Food and Agriculture
Natural Resource Conservation Service
USDA Conservation Innovation Grants Program

Ag Resources Library

RCD Contact: Sacha Lozano

Stormwater and Erosion Management

Stormwater and Erosion Management

In developed areas, roofs, roads, culverts, pavement, and other impervious surfaces gather and redirect stormwater, preventing it from soaking into the ground. Concentrated runoff can quickly create localized erosion problems and cause creeks to rapidly rise. Unable to handle the increased water volume and flow, the creeks can experience collapsed banks, deepened channels, loss of habitat and aquatic life, and increased flooding and property damage. Stormwater can also carry a broad mix of potentially toxic chemicals, bacteria, sediments, fertilizers, oil and grease to nearby waterways. Large volumes of runoff can also impact hillsides causing gullying and even landslides.

How we can help. The RCD offers County residents confidential, no-cost drainage and erosion consultations along with cost-share incentives (dependent on available funding) for making improvements that reduce runoff and erosion. We promote what are known as low impact stormwater management techniques that mimic the natural water cycle to reduce erosion, keep harmful pollutants out of our creeks, improve habitat that also protecting your property. The types of practices we recommend include:

  • Ground Covers. Keeping soil covered with mulch or vegetation slows down water and allows for greater infiltration. It also protects soil from raindrop impact that induces erosion.
  • Water Catchment (Rain Barrels and Cisterns): Rainwater collection is an excellent opportunity to slow water down by temporarily storing it. Captured water can be reused for irrigation, fire protection or other non-potable options or metered off slowly after storm events to allow for infiltration and reduced flooding.
  • Rain Gardens: Rain gardens are vegetated basins installed at homes to capture and detain runoff, facilitate water infiltration and groundwater recharge while providing an aesthetic landscaping benefit to landowners.
  • Swales: Swales are shallow channels designed to convey, filter, and infiltrate stormwater runoff. They can be designed to be a meandering or almost straight depending on the amount land available on the site and be finished with vegetation and/or rocks bottoms.
  • Pervious surfaces: There are many new types of pervious materials that allow runoff to pass through and sink back into the soil. Some popular choices are paver stones, turf block and permeable asphalts and pavements.

We have also created a full color guide for homeowners titled Slow it, Spread it, Sink it! that provides an array of information for those interested in using these techniques at home. It is available in our resource library along with an array of other useful tools.

If you are looking for drainage and erosion control assistance for a private road, please visit our the Rural Road Program page.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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We have long been interested in harvesting rainwater and protecting the watersheds in the Santa Cruz mountains. Trying to gather ideas from various publications and the internet was daunting. The RCD helped us obtain the resources both for the tanks themselves and the expert people to install the systems. We feel that our new tanks that can harvest up to 7000 gallons of rainwater from our roof will help us through the drought years and for many years in the future! Thank you RCD. - Larry Bidinian and Joan Teitler, Felton

Conservation benefit: Reduce soil loss, protect water quality, and increase groundwater infiltration by using stormwater management techniques that mimic natural processes.

Partners:
County of Santa Cruz
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Regional Water Management Foundation

Funders (curent and past):
County of Santa Cruz
Regional Water Quality Control Board
State Water Resources Control Board
United State Environmental Protection Agency

Stormwater Resource Library

RCD Contact: Angie Gruys

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    Capitola, California 95010
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