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The San Diego County Watershed Permit Coordination Program

Expanding Partners in Restoration to Southern California

Building on Partners in Restoration's (PIR) success in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Mendocino, Marin, and Santa Cruz counties, Sustainable Conservation took a strategic look at watersheds throughout California and identified San Diego County as a priority area for extension of the program. The County contains extremely productive agricultural and nursery lands, more rare species than any comparable land area in the U.S., and is one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in the country—circumstances that make balancing the needs of habitat conservation, working landscapes, growing communities, and wildfire management a significant challenge.

Bringing the Program to Northwestern San Diego County

With funding from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, through the San Diego Regional Water Resource Control Board, we are partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Mission Resource Conservation District (Mission RCD). Our goal is to replicate PIR in northwestern San Diego County's San Luis Rey and Santa Margarita watersheds. Our goal is to establish a new tool that compels landowners to take action that addresses critical resource challenges and enhances the economic and environmental sustainability of their property.

The program area covers a mosaic of private agricultural and rural properties within the boundaries of the 134,000-acre Mission RCD service area, and includes the lower San Luis Rey and Santa Margarita Rivers, and several tributary watercourses, such as Pilgrim, Rainbow, and De Luz creeks. (See the program area map for more detail.) Surface water is minimal or non-existent in the lower reaches of the area for most of the year; however intense rain showers may occur during the brief winter rainy season that can cause intermittent flooding. The topography is characterized by canyons and hilly terrain, with scrub and chaparral communities. The area is relatively sparsely populated, with roughly 125,000 residents primarily in the City of Oceanside and towns of Fallbrook and Bonsall. Agriculture and open space are the dominant land uses in the area, including avocado and citrus groves, tree and flower nurseries, and cattle and horse grazing.

The San Diego County Permit Coordination Program partners are working with public agencies and the community to craft a program that:

  1. Considers local conditions and priority resource concerns;
  2. Maintains the integrity of Federal, state, and local regulatory mandates;
  3. Leverages local partner experience and strong landowner relationships;
  4. Drives wider application of Federal Farm Bill funds in sensitive resource areas;
  5. Provides access to private landowners to help meet goals in watershed and habitat conservation plans; and
  6. Encourages voluntary implementation of up to 10 high-quality conservation practices per year.

Conservation Practices

Descriptions of the nine NRCS conservation practices specially selected for the program area are provided here. In addition to standard practices to enhance water quality native habitat, this program will extend the permit coordination tool to the removal of exotic plants and reduction of wildfire hazards.

Regulatory Partners

Early participation of local, state, and federal regulatory agencies is critical to the success of this program. We are seeking program approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Fish and Game, San Diego Regional Water Resources Control Board, County of San Diego, and the City of Oceanside Permit applications were submitted to all six authorizing regulatory agencies in 2004.

Working Together to Create Solutions

A growing number of landowners and community groups are interested in promoting sustainable practices for resource management in northwestern San Diego County, but they recognize the difficulty in obtaining the necessary permits. This challenge requires a concerted effort by public and private stakeholders to assist proactive land stewards who are trying to undertake conservation work. We want to provide a boost for a wider array of landowners to pursue restoration efforts that conform to regulatory standards and improve the sustainability of their lands.

Next Steps

During 2005 we will work with regulatory partners to finalize permit and CEQA approvals, and reach out to the environmental and landowner community to educate key stakeholders on the opportunity presented by this new program. Our goal is for landowners to begin work under the program in spring 2006.