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Partners in Restoration

The Morro Bay Permit Coordination Program

The Morro Bay Partners in Restoration (PIR) permit coordination program is a model public-private collaborative effort that encourages and supports local farmers, ranchers, and landowners who are improving water quality and wildlife habitat on and near their lands. Using conservation practices, such as erosion control and streambank protection, the agricultural community can prevent erosion, retain valuable topsoil on the properties, and improve the watershed's natural resources.

The project proponents—the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District (RCD), the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, and Sustainable Conservation, along with multiple public agencies-have crafted a program to enhance natural habitat and reduce erosion and sedimentation in the Morro Bay watershed.

The core of the Morro Bay PIR program is the watershed-based permits and agreements issued by local, state, and federal regulatory agencies to the NRCS and the Coastal San Luis RCD. These agreements create "one-stop permit shopping" for farmers, ranchers, and landowners working with the NRCS and Coastal San Luis RCD on conservation projects. The watershed-based agreements cover fifteen different conservation practices in the Morro Bay watershed.

Under this program, a cooperator receiving technical and/or cost share assistance from the NRCS or the Coastal San Luis RCD is allowed to implement the associated conservation practices without seeking individual permits (provided the cooperator follows the terms and conditions of the program's permits and agreements). The NRCS/Coastal San Luis RCD assist in project design and monitor implementation and maintenance of the conservation practices to ensure participants comply with the conditions of the permits.

Regulatory Partners

Local, state, and federal regulatory agencies and staff have actively participated in making this program happen. The agencies signing on to this innovative "one-stop permit shopping" program are San Luis Obispo County, the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Morro Bay Watershed

Morro Bay is the largest area of salt marsh, lagoon, and estuary along the Central Coast of California and one of the few relatively intact natural estuaries left on the Pacific Coast of North America. Its watershed has a total drainage of approximately 48,450 acres, including Los Osos Creek, Chorro Creek, and their tributaries.

The Morro Bay watershed and estuary provide important habitat for rare and sensitive plant and animal species such as the Morro shoulderband snail, the steelhead trout, and Morro bog thistle. The estuary's eelgrass beds and wetlands provide important nursery habitat and food sources for marine fish. Morro Bay is also an important stop-over on the Pacific Flyway and winter home to numerous bird species, and ranks among the top sites in the Audubon Christmas Bird count.

Problems Facing the Morro Bay Watershed

In the Morro Bay watershed, changes in land use associated with increased human population and land clearing for agriculture have resulted in a significant increase in runoff, erosion, and sedimentation into the estuary and a corresponding decrease in habitat and water quality.

Severely accelerated erosion and sedimentation are quickly filling Morro Bay—it has lost more than a quarter of its volume over the past 100 years. Other associated water quality concerns in the watershed include excessive levels of bacteria, high levels of nitrates in groundwater supplies, and heavy metals in the bay and watershed.

The unnatural erosion and sedimentation greatly reduces the diversity of species and productivity of the area. These processes are burying sensitive riparian and wetland habitat, and are transforming the estuary's extensive eelgrass habitat to salt marsh. The continuing loss, degradation, and fragmentation of sensitive habitat in the watershed are contributors to the overall decline of California's native species.

Working together To Create Solutions

Erosion and degradation of the watershed must be controlled at the source. A watershed approach to coastal resource management focuses attention on the cumulative effect of upland land uses on the creeks, streams, rivers, and sloughs that eventually flow to the ocean. This means working with public and private groups and individuals to improve watershed management practices. Many landowners, government and environmental groups are interested in promoting sustainable resource management practices in the Morro Bay watershed, primarily through the use of conservation practices (also commonly called Best Management Practices).

Contact Information

Cheryl Zelus
Natural Resources Conservation Service
65 Main Street, Suite 108
Templeton, CA 93465
(805) 434-0396 x107
Cheryl.zelus@ca.usda.gov

Julie Thomas
Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District
545 Main Street, Ste. B-1
Morro Bay, CA 93442
(805) 772-4391
jthomas@coastalrcd.org