Partners in Restoration
The Navarro River Permit Coordination Program
The Navarro River Partners in Restoration (PIR) permit coordination program is a model public–private effort that encourages and supports local farmers, ranchers, and landowners who are improving water quality and wildlife habitat on and near their lands. The Navarro River PIR builds on the Navarro Watershed Restoration Plan and the incorporated erosion control, road maintenance, and riparian enhancement management measures, making it easier for the agricultural community to participate in implementing this community developed plan. The project proponents—the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District (RCD) and Sustainable Conservation—along with multiple public agencies, have crafted this program to enhance the Navarro River's natural habitat and reduce erosion and sedimentation in the river and the coastal environment downstream.
The core of Navarro River PIR is the watershed-based agreements entered into by local, state and federal regulatory agencies to the NRCS and the Mendocino County RCD. These agreements create "one-stop permit shopping" for farmers, ranchers, and landowners working with the NRCS and Mendocino County RCD on conservation projects. The watershed-based agreements cover seven different conservation practices and management measures in the Navarro River watershed. Under Navarro River PIR, a cooperator receiving technical and/or cost share assistance from the NRCS or the Mendocino River RCD is allowed to implement the associated conservation practices without seeking individual permits—provided they partner with the NRCS and Mendocino River RCD and carefully follow the terms of the program's agreements. The NRCS and Mendocino County RCD assist in project design and monitor implementation and maintenance of the conservation practices to ensure the projects comply with the program.
Local, state and federal regulatory agencies and their staff have been great partners in this effort, providing important guidance and input. Agencies signing onto this innovative "one-stop permit shopping" include the California Department of Fish and Game, the North 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 Navarro River Watershed
The Navarro River watershed is located on California's North Coast. The watershed includes the Navarro River, which flows from the coastal range, through Anderson Valley to the Pacific Ocean for approximately 26 river miles. It reaches the Pacific about 15 miles south of the town of Mendocino. Elevations in the watershed range from sea level to 3,000 feet. The watershed encompasses approximately 315 sq. miles (201,600 acres) of Mendocino County.
The Navarro River watershed is the largest coastal basin in Mendocino County and can be subdivided into five major subwatersheds: Mainstem Navarro River, North Fork Navarro River, Indian Creek, Anderson Creek, and Rancheria Creek. Each subwatershed contains numerous smaller tributaries.
The population of the Navarro River watershed is approximately 3,500 people, most living in and around the towns of Boonville, Philo, and Navarro. The primary land uses are forestland (70%), rangeland (25%), and agriculture (5%). The regional economy is based on commercial timber harvesting, grazing, viticulture, orchards, and tourism. Timber harvesting began in the Navarro River watershed in the mid-1880s, with resurgence during the middle decades of 20th Century. Sheep and cattle have been grazed in the watershed since the 1870s.
Major land uses within each subwatershed are as follows:
- Rancheria Creek - Sheep and cattle grazing, logging, open space and rural residential homes are the most common land uses. Highway 128 is also a major land use within this subwatershed.
- Anderson Creek - This is the most populated subwatershed within the Navarro River watershed. Sheep and cattle grazing, orchards, row crops, agriculture, and viticulture are common.
- Indian Creek - Timber production, hunting clubs, ranching, open space, residential and commercial urban uses, and viticulture are most common. Most timber is produced in the upper reaches of the North Fork of Indian Creek, while most developed areas and vineyards are found on or near the floodplain along the lower reaches of Indian Creek and near the town of Philo.
- North Fork Navarro River - Primary use is timber production, with some rural residential and vacation homes.
- Mainstem Navarro River - Main uses are rural residential, vacation homes, roads, current and former logging and lumber mills, timber production, vineyards, orchards, and open space.
Problems Facing the Navarro River Watershed
In the Navarro watershed, changes in land use associated with increased human populations, land clearing for agriculture, and timber production have resulted in a significant increase in agricultural runoff, erosion, sedimentation, and water diversions for irrigation. This has resulted in a corresponding decrease in quality instream habitat, water quality, and instream flows during the warm summer months.
The degradation of habitat and water quality has contributed to the steep decline in Steelhead and Salmon populations, and generally reduced the diversity of species and natural productivity throughout California. The Navarro River and its tributaries have experienced a reduction in the quality and amount of instream habitat capable of fully supporting anadromous fish populations due to increased sedimentation and water temperature. The Navarro Watershed Restoration Plan (NWRP) identifies the main resource concern in the Navarro watershed as those resources required to support healthy runs of anadromous fish. The combination of agricultural runoff, streambank erosion, runoff from roads and the effects of years of upland forestry practices has caused serious impacts to water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat in the watershed. Historically the Navarro and its tributaries provided high quality habitat for anadromous fish, supporting both Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout. Both species are now listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Coho are also proposed for listing under the California Endangered Species Act.
Additionally, the Navarro River is listed as "impaired" under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act for sediment related problems and water temperature. The Regional Board has identified sediment, a non-point source pollutant, as resulting mainly from land management related activities, i.e. farming, forestry, development, and roads. Many of these activities occur on private lands.
Unabated, this continuing loss of natural functioning will contribute to the overall decline of California's native plant and animal species and lower the quality of life for our communities.
Working Together To Create Solutions
Erosion and natural resource degradation in the watershed must be controlled at the source. A watershed approach to resource management focuses attention on the cumulative effect of upland and upstream uses on the creeks, streams, and rivers that eventually flow to the ocean. This means working with public and private groups, communities, and individuals to improve management practices in the watershed. Many landowners, government, and environmental groups are interested in promoting sustainable resource management practices in the Navarro River watershed. They came together to create the NWRP that, among other goals, promotes improved land management through the implementation of a number of management measures (commonly called conservation practices or best management practices).
Participating in the Permit Coordination Program
To participate in the Navarro River PIR permit coordination program, you must contact the local NRCS office or Mendocino County RCD to see if your project can be covered by the program. Partnering with the NRCS/Mendocino County RCD will ensure your project meets the regulatory agency conditions and will be covered under the watershed-based agreements. These organizations may also be able to assist you with project design, technical assistance and information on cost-sharing programs. You cannot participate in the Navarro River PIR without the assistance of the NRCS or Mendocino County RCD.