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Chipping Programs

Chipping Programs

The RCD’s Community Chipping Programs incentivizes the creation of defensible space around homes in high wildfire risk areas. When funding is available, we offer two options for Santa Cruz County residents located in eligible geographic regions.

The first is an at-home No-Cost Chipping Program for individuals where the RCD hires a chipping company to come to your home. The second is a Neighborhood Chipping Reimbursement Program for communities with eight or more participating properties who conduct their own chipping. For either program, all chipped materials must be from cleared vegetation that originated within 100 feet of occupied structures or within 15 feet on either side of a private road. For the no-cost individual program, chips are blown back onto the property; they are not removed. See our Fire Preparedness and Prevention Resource Library for the top 10 uses for chips. All programs are dependent on grant funding and availability.

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

Establishing and maintaining defensible space around your home and outbuildings, before fire-prone summer months, is imperative in avoiding major damages to your property when wildfire strikes. Defensible space is the buffer you create between buildings and the vegetation that surrounds them to prevent structures from catching fire, either from direct flame contact or radiant heat. Creating ample buffer zones not only increases the chances of your home surviving a fire on its own, but it also gives firefighters a safer location from which to defend your home. In fact, fire crews are more likely to spend time and prioritize defending your property if you have taken steps to limit fuel loads around your buildings.

Creating defensible space around your home does not mean you need a ring of bare dirt surrounding your property; with proper planning, you can have a fire safe home and a beautiful landscape. The general concept is that trees should be kept farthest from the house, shrubs can be closer, and lawns and bedding plants can be the closest. If your landscaping has a different configuration than this, you can improve defensibility by keeping larger trees limbed up and shrubs free of dead, dry material.

How do the programs work?

Both programs are offered seasonally and are dependent on available funds.

No-Cost Chipping Program. This program offers at-home chipping services to residents when funding is available. Signups are first-come-first served and each household must complete a two-part registration process to be enrolled and confirmed into the program. Part one is an online pre-registration application to verify space is available, and part two is a chipping schedule form that is completed once your materials are stacked and ready for chipping. A detailed schedule of areas served, deadlines for program applications, chipping dates and guidelines for preparing materials for chipping are posted on the seasonal chipping program instructions page when programs are active.

Neighborhood Chipping Reimbursement Program. This program offers reimbursements of eligible chipping costs of up to $250 per property and $1 per lineal foot of private road to communities that conduct chipping of the fuels located within the 100 feet of their occupied structures or with ten (10) feet of private roads. To be eligible, there must be a minimum of eight (8) households who participate. Sign-ups are first-come-first served by completing the reimbursement sign up when available. The application will be filled out by one individual from the neighborhood followed by the request for reimbursement once chipping is completed. Reimbursement is provided to one indivudal from the neighborhood, HOA, or road association who will be responosible for managing or distrubuting funds as needed.

Who is eligible?

Most seasonal programs are available only to residents within the Wildland Urban Interface. Criteria may vary depending the RCD's funding source. Check active program links below for more detailed information.

The RCD program is currently NOT available in the Bonny Doon or South Skyline areas. Bonny Doon and South Skyline Fire Safe Councils manage their own chipping programs that are partially supported through collaborative grants administered by the RCD. Visit their respective pages for more information.

RCD Seasonal Chipping Programs

Did you know?

California Law (Public Resource Code 4291) requires that any person that owns, leases, controls, operates, or maintains a building or structure in, upon or adjoining any land covered with flammable material shall at all times maintain 100 feet of defensible space.

Conservation Goal: Protect soil, water and wildlife through actions that prevent catastrophic wildfire.

Partners:
Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County
Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council
South Skyline Fire Safe Council
County of Santa Cruz
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE)

Funders:
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE)
California Fire Safe Council
United States Forest Service

Fire Preparedness and Prevention
Resource Library

Have questions or want to be added to our mailing list to get information about the chipping program or other fire prevention and preparedness information? Contact the RCD for more information.

RCD Contact: Matt Abernathy

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.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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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

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?

Contact Us

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

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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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

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

Streamwood Program

Streamwood Enhancement

Large wood from fallen trees, logs, root wads, and large branches provides essential habitat for Steelhead and Coho salmon and helps maintain natural stream function. Lack of wood has been identified as a critical threat to the health of our local waterways and fisheries. The wood also increases the overall complexity of the stream channel and provides a host of other benefits such as:  

  • More spawning gravels. Slowing the flow of water, especially during high flows, thereby providing pockets of refuge for adult fish to move upstream and for juveniles to rear. This slower water also lets larger sediment like gravel fall out, providing important spawning substrate.
  • Formation of pools. During winter storms, wood helps form and maintain pools, which provide cold places for fish to hide from predators during periods of low flow. Endangered Coho salmon are found mostly in pool habitats with lots of large wood.
  • Lower water temperature. Helps decrease water temperature by providing shaded areas along streams and creating pockets of cooler water for cold-water loving species.
  • Food for fish. Traps organic material like leaves and twigs that provide nutrients for insects and invertebrates (critters without spines), which in turn provide food for fish.
  • Reduced erosion. Helps streambanks by preventing erosion of soil along banks.
  • Diversity of species. Wildlife such as the red-legged frog and western pond turtle prefer habitats with large wood
  • Groundwater recharge. When in the right place, can also improve connectivity to adjacent floodplains, which are important habitats and help recharge local shallow groundwater

There are a lot of misconceptions about wood in streams, with some seeing it as a threat or liability, or even passage barriers for fish. In most cases, large wood in a stream can and should be left alone because of the benefits that it provides to both fish and properties. There are times when stream wood needs to be managed to minimize risks to downstream bridges or culverts. Most fish can swim through, under, or around wood and logjams. Our hope is for the community to understand and appreciate that wood is playing an important role in the health of our streams and provides our communities with important social and ecological benefits.

Unless it’s causing flooding or erosion that threatens life or property, streamwood should be left in place. Steelhead and Coho salmon and their habitat are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act and State and local laws. To cut up or remove large streamwood requires permission from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). If you are concerned about stream wood on your property and feel modification is necessary, the County of Santa Cruz provides no-cost assessments. Contact Public Works Drainage Division at (831) 477-3999 for assistance. 

The RCD helps to educate the community about the benefits of leaving wood in place. We also work with landowners to design, engineer and construct projects that strategically place and anchor large trees in place, that over time will improve critical stream habit, stabilize streambanks and aggrade over deep channels.

By actively adding wood to streams, we are trying to mimic a process that historically would have happened naturally, when downed trees from mature forests alongside the creek would have occasionally fallen into the stream, creating a more complex habitat. But because there is so much less wood in our streams then there used to be, we are trying to accelerate wood recruitment to provide these benefits and natural processes sooner. 

We have worked with diverse partners to place wood and logjams in numerous streams in the county including Zayante Creek, Soquel Creek, San Vicente and Scotts Creek, and are continually working on identifying future project on both private and public lands.

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Improvement of critical fish habitat and healthier streams through the strategic management and reintroduction of large wood in our creeks.

Partners:
California State Parks
CalPoly, Swanton Pacific Ranch
City of Santa Cruz
County of Santa Cruz
Private Landowners
San Lorenzo Valley Water District

Funders:
California State Coastal Conservancy
CalPoly, Swanton Pacific Ranch
Private Landowners
State Water Resources Control Board
US Environmental Protection Agency

Stream Resource Library

RCD Contact: Daniel Nylen

This project is what we need all over Santa Cruz County. We couldn’t have done this project on our own without the RCD, without the City of Santa Cruz, without the County...” - Rick Rogers, District Manager San Lorenzo Valley Water District (regarding the Zayante Creek project)

Wildlife Species Recovery

Wildlife Species Recovery

Santa Cruz County is home to 26 rare plant and animal species, a number of globally rare habitats, more than 850 miles of waterways, 18,000 acres of grasslands, and over 1,500 acres of wetlands. However, past land use and land practices have resulted in the loss or degradation of these critical habitats that native flora and fauna have evolved to depend on.

To enhance habitat to aid in the recovery of threatened and endangered wildlife species in Santa Cruz County, the RCD has become a leader and an innovator in developing and implementing habitat restoration projects.

When you bring back a fish species like a salmon here in a creek, it benefits hundreds of other species, the entire ecosystem benefits, not just the fish. --Tom Gandesbery, Project Manager, California Coastal Conservancy

For example, the RCD works with landowners and partners to build and improve wetlands that support recovery of the endangered Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander, which is a species endemic to the Santa Cruz region and the threatened California Red-Legged Frog, the largest native frog in the western United States. Wetlands provide food, protection from predators, and other vital habitat factors, but also have economic value associated with recreational and commercial uses, as well as scenic value. In addition, wetlands remove pollutants, increase groundwater recharge, and reduce flooding.

The RCD also develops and implements projects to aid in the recovery of threatened and endangered Steelhead and Coho salmon, including streamwood enhancement projects, barrier removal projects, and sediment removal projects, to name just a few. Other species that the RCD is focused on include Monarch butterflies, California Tiger Salamander.

We have also secured funding to work with local partners to improve habitat for the Western Monarch butterfly.

Additionally, the RCD’s Partners in Restoration Permit Coordination Program provides expedited permitting for projects taking place in sensitive habitat to ensure protections for these species.

 

Contact the RCD for assistance.

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Conservation benefit: Move the needle on species recovery in a positive direction for species of concern in the Santa Cruz region.

Partners:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
City of Santa Cruz
County of Santa Cruz
US Fish and Wildlife Service

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

RCD Contact: Daniel Nylen

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  • 820 Bay Avenue, Suite 136
    Capitola, California 95010
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