May/June 2011 issue

Conservation Blueprint for Santa Cruz County

Living Landscape Initiative

Terry Corwin, Executive Director

Conservation Blueprint for Santa Cruz County

RBDA General Meeting
Wednesday May 11, 2011, 7:30 PM
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Ice Cream Grade & Pine Flat Road

Land Trust to Present Land and Resource Protection Plans

Two years ago, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County undertook to bring scientists and citizens together to formulate a comprehensive Conservation Blueprint for Santa Cruz County. After four public forums and input from 120 technical advisors, the Blueprint, available at, contains an overview of the natural heritage of our county, our attitudes toward it, and, more importantly, makes a series of recommendations on priorities and strategies to protect that heritage.

This past winter, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, together with The Nature Conservancy, Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save the Redwoods League, and Sempervirens Fund announced the ambitious Living Landscape Initiative,, to protect over 80,000 acres in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. The Initiative has four targets: Coastal Lands, the Redwood Heartland, the Pajaro Corridor, and the Essential Links connecting these critical natural and agricultural habitats.

The guest speaker at our May 11 General Meeting, Executive Director Terry Corwin, has led the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County for the past six years and has been centrally involved with both of these important projects. She last spoke to us two years ago about the late lamented Senate Bill 211, which sought to establish an Open Space District of Santa Cruz County. Please join us May 11 and support these latest efforts to keep Bonny Doon, Santa Cruz County, and Central California “Rural and Natural.”



More Water for Bonny Doon Fish, Less for City

The story of the City of Santa Cruz’s long awaited Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is not a story about desalination, turning seawater to drinking water. Its motif is instead anadromy: the life journey of fish that are born and spend their youth in freshwater streams, live their adult lives at sea, then return to the streams of their birth to spawn. It is a story about the coexistence of humans and fish, and their competition for water.

Santa Cruz County is the southern limit of the range of two anadromous fish species, the endangered Coho Salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch, and the threatened Steelhead Trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss. Their freshwater habitat here is entirely within the North Coast creeks draining Ben Lomond Mountain westward and the San Lorenzo River draining our mountain to the east, the same streams that supply over three-quarters of the drinking water for the City of Santa Cruz.

For millennia, these two species returned to Bonny Doon. While their population was compromised by erosion associated with old-time timber harvesting in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, as recently as the 1950s, lifetime angler Hal Janssen viewed them as “inexhaustible” and said, “We would have huge schools and schools of [coho] in California in the 50s and 60s in the San Lorenzo River and Pescadero.” Unfortunately for the fish, the postwar economic boom put them in contention for the water in their streams with the City of Santa Cruz. Compound that with the Army Corps of Engineers’ attempt to prevent a recurrence of the December 1955 flood of San Lorenzo River, and the fish were on the ropes. By the 1980s the San Vicente Creek salmon run was finished. In 1991, in response to public petitions, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) declared the Central Coast Coho an “Evolutionarily Significant Unit, “legally for Endangered Species Act (ESA), but not scientifically strictly a species. In 1996 it was listed as threatened and in 1999 it became endangered.

In the last 50 years the Central Coast Coho population has fallen by 99%. In the past decade, while not extinct in its entire range, the Central Coast Coho has been extirpated (made locally extinct) in Santa Cruz County. Unlike extinction, though, extirpation can be reversed, and, on the heels of its Steelhead plan, last year the NMFS rolled out its plan for the recovery of the Coho.

Meanwhile, in 2002, as the City Water Dept. sought certainty over the competition between fish and people for water as it began preparing its Integrated Water Plan, it initiated a conversation with NMFS on a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Coho. Under the ESA, degradation of the habitat of a listed species is just as much a ‘take’ as actually killing individuals, and brings the threat of litigation, monetary penalties, and even the shutdown of drinking water extraction from the Bonny Doon watersheds. The only way that the take from diversion of water from the watersheds is permissible is through the implementation of an HCP limiting the impact of the diversions themselves and including habitat improvement and mitigation in other locations to balance the diversions.

The contention for water is acute. Santa Cruz County is unique in California in not importing water from other counties. Our quake-prone geology leaves us with very little water storage The only major reservoir, Loch Lomond, even if it were completely drained rather than drawn down 10-15%, only holds in total roughly 3 billion gallons, about 80% as much water as the city currently uses in a year. According to John Ricker, Santa Cruz County Water Resource Director, the county is in a state of overdraft, everywhere using more water than is replenished in the water cycle.

On April 5, the Water Dept. updated the public on the status of the HCP before the Santa Cruz City Council. Over the last nine years, a team of legal counsels, fisheries biologists, hydrologists, and ecologists, following the lead of City Water Resources Manager Chris Berry, collected data, analyzed the scientific and legal literature, and produced detailed models of the spawning stream vs. drinking water contention.

Using stream flow as the best proxy for overall habitat health, they have charted a strategy based on three ‘tiers.’ Tier 1 simply maintains current flows. Tier 2 aims to improve stream habitat on the North Coast within the constraints of the current system. Tier 3, favored by NMFS, restores both river and stream habitats to 80% of optimum, an impossibility given the current water usage regime. It would require either augmenting the City’s water supplies (via a desalination plant discussed in the article on page 3) or drastically reducing its water use. Tier 1 is almost certainly unacceptable to NMFS; at very least it would require the city to place into escrow $500,000/year with the Resource Conservation District (RCD) for off-site mitigation of dry and drought year take. Tier 2 would reduce the city’s average annual water supply by 20%, about equal to the reduction that has already occurred through public awareness and conservation in response to the recent drought years. It would still require an estimated $250,000/year on average in off-site mitigation. The difference between Tier 2 and Tier 3 amounts to roughly 1.6 billion gallons per year now, and will grow substantially over the next 20 years.

While the City Council meeting turned into a proxy battle between desalination and conservation, and the City Water Department is indeed caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, the City Council finally did direct City Water to continue negotiating an HCP with NMFS. City Water projects that a completed plan will come back to the Council in about a year and be finalized with NMFS in two years. We hope that the City finds the political will to make the HCP into the victory for the coho that the species so sorely needs and the wisdom to resolve the debate over the means to that end.


Legal Challenge to UCSC Water Expansion EIR in Court May 11

The attorney who successfully challenged significant sections of UCSC’s Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) has made persuasive arguments in a suit challenging the City of Santa Cruz’s approval of the Environmental Impact Report for providing City of Santa Cruz water to the Upper Campus, which UCSC wants to develop. A Santa Cruz Superior Court hearing regarding this suit is now set for Wednesday. May 11.

Attorney Stephan Volker of Oakland this time is representing Habitat and Watershed Conservation (HAWC), a citizens’ group which evolved out of CLUE, the Coalition for Limiting University Expansion. CLUE brought the suit that led to the Comprehensive Settlement Agreement that required UCSC to undertake significant mitigation measures in the areas of traffic, housing and water use to offset the impacts of its projected growth to 19,500 students by the year 2020.

While some City officials and others view the attempts to limit or prevent UC development of the Upper Campus (in Bonny Doon) as undermining the settlement agreement, CLUE (and the RBDA, which was a party to the LRDP suit) have always contended that UCSC is subject to the regulatory control of the Local Agency Formation Commission, (LAFCO), a state-level agency. Every county has one. UCSC is exempt from local land regulation, which means the only influence local citizens have on its expansion is LAFCO review.

That is why, during the settlement negotiations, CLUE and the RBDA refused to compromise on anything less than full LAFCO consideration of the Upper Campus expansion.

UCSC growing into Bonny Doon not only goes against the County’s urban development policies as outlined in its General Plan, it would be the largest single development in County history.

The HAWC lawsuit homes in on water issues in the EIR for the applications by the City and UCSC to expand the City Water service boundary beyond City limits and to supply the Upper Campus with water.

In his brief, Attorney Volker claims that the City, which was the “lead agency” for the EIR, i.e., it hired and supervised the private contractor which produced it, “failed to determine that it has adequate water to serve the project, failed to consider feasible alternatives thereto and mitigations thereof, and failed to adequately assess and make findings regarding the Project’s impacts, particularly on the City’s water supply.” Further, Volker wrote, extending water to the Upper Campus “...will sacrifice the City’s remaining and meager water reserves for the unnecessary and unsustainable development of 3,175,00 gross square feet of new buildings, a near-doubling of the existing Campus development.”

According to Volker, “The EIR’s omissions are failures to proceed in the manner prescribed by CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) because it has omitted essential environmental review.” And because “The EIR failed to adequately disclose, discuss and mitigate the Project’s significant impacts on the City’s water supply, watershed and biological resources, it has unlawfully precluded a meaningful assessment of the potentially significant environmental impacts of the Project.”

Complicating the issue is the recent preliminary estimate that the City will have to reduce its water diversion from the San Lorenzo River, Newell Creek and North Coast streams by at least 800 million gallons a year to provide adequate habitat for endangered Coho salmon and Steelhead trout and other aquatic species (see the article on page 2).

The EIR did not examine the impact of this reduction, which wasn’t quantified at the time it was completed. The RBDA and others pointed out to no avail that this was a significant omission in the EIR. Even without consideration of the reduced supply in order to provide fish habitat, Volker’s suit maintains that “the City does not even attempt to claim that the EIR contained substantial evidence that adequate water supplies were available, nor does it contend that the EIR analyzed the impacts that delivering water to the Project will have on other water users in the City.” Even without the 800 million gallon reduction, the EIR found that even in normal rainfall years and as early as 2015 the City might experience shortfalls.

The City is hoping that a desalination plant will provide the additional water it needs both for existing customers and future growth, including UCSC expansion. However, a significant California Supreme Court decision (in a case brought by Attorney Volker) stated that the water for a proposed project must bear “a likelihood of actually proving available,” a position difficult to take at this early stage of project development.

The City’s attorneys’ main contention is that the EIR didn’t have to consider the actual effects of the proposed UCSC expansion because it is only asking for a so- called Sphere of Influence extension, while Volker cites case law that says the effects must be examined in the EIR “if it is virtually certain there will be development.”

Even if the HAWC suit and the CWC suit, which has been appealed, are not yet decided, LAFCO will still hold a hearing on the service extension applications, says its Executive Director McCormick. He told The Highlander that he expects to have a status report at LAFCO’s August meeting, and that a date for the public hearing could be in September or October.

In February, LAFCO adopted a new Water Policy that requires a proposed project demonstrate an “adequate, reliable and sustainable” water supply. Basing such supply on a desalination plant that still faces major obstacles, and particularly in light of the possible diversion of 800 million gallons annually for fish, suggest that no such thing has been demonstrated.

The RBDA Wants YOU!

Currently we have 143 paying members from 95 different households. There are 63 households whose memberships lapsed this year which have yet to renew and 59 additional households whose memberships expired in 2010 (and 177 from previous years)! You will be getting reminder notices in the mail soon (you may already have them). Please remember to send them back in so we can keep you on our list of up-to-date members. If you receive a notice at your address for someone who no longer lives there, please let us know by email, phone or by snail mail—and then join up yourself.

A robust RBDA membership is also important in our dealings with government agencies and elected officials. They tend to listen and respond to strong and well-informed constituencies. It also helps to show that we have a strong membership when working with other non-profits and when persuading speakers to present at our meetings. Your membership dues help produce The Highlander newsletter, which goes out free to ALL Bonny Dooners and makes possible our bi-monthly forum/presentation at Bonny Doon Elementary School.


Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve Gets New Manager

The new California Dept. of Fish and Game (DFG) manager for the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, Conrad Jones, is a hands-on executive who believes in forging strong working relationships with volunteer groups. One of his recent projects was helping a conservation group refill wildlife guzzlers (artificial water sources) high in remote mountains in the Mojave Desert. He believes that the volunteer group is essential for the survival of bighorn sheep. He says his collaborations with community groups have worked out well because he is “honest about things and can get things done.”

His specific concerns for the Bonny Doon reserve are, in equal measure, endangered species, public use, education (field trips) and, fire safety. He is clearly aware of the conflicting interests among these issues and his goal is “to find a balance that does no harm,” between public use and endangered species and between fire safety and forest health. Regarding the fire regime, he says he wants to “create as safe a fire environment for the neighbors while allowing as natural a fire regime as we can.”

Three important issues currently at the forefront of concern at the reserve are, the Reggiardo Creek culvert blowout, working with the BLCC crews and dealing with the Pine Beetle infestation.

The culvert on Reggiardo Creek blew out in this year’s storms, causing extensive erosion and diversion of water flow from the desired channel. According to Docent Coordinator Val Haley, who has been involved with the reserve for many years, two culverts were installed side-by-side rather than end-to-end, causing instability that resulted in the blowout. She attributes the flaw to lack of on-site observation of the installation process and contractor error rather than the design of the culvert itself.

Jones is taking a methodical approach to understanding and solving the problem. He went out to observe the site and figure out the exact causes of the blowout and potential ways to fix it. He sees signs of various events that affected the erosion such as a downed tree and evidence of an eddy formation and a lot of extra water in the area but is not sure of all the causes yet. His plan at this point is to get reports from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Resource Conservation District (RCD) on the causes and solution to the problem. He will then send these reports to his DFG engineers and expects they will be able to come out and look at the site as well. With all this input, as well as discussions with Haley and others, he will try to come to a consensus on what to do and then pursue repair funding. There is no detailed time-line at this point but he expects to get the first reports back in the very near future.

Pine Beetles are just starting to break dormancy after a cold wet winter and have not yet started their flight attacks, which should start when the weather gets warmer. But the vast majority of available Ponderosa pines have already been attacked and destroyed and are no longer useful to the beetle. As Haley notes, “We may see some new ones [attacks] but there are not a lot of new pickings.”

Disposing of the dead trees is part of the work that the BLCC crews will do. The tops of the dead trees can fall and pose a hazard to hikers. Additionally, any currently infested trees need to be cut, cleared and burned. Unfortunately, burn piles for the dead and infested wood present a dilemma for the Mt. Hermon June Beetle, a harmless but endangered species that lives underground in many places on the reserve and can easily be harmed by the burning. Jones says that an environmental review process is in the works and he hopes to have the crews on the ground by the end of April, but it is currently out of his hands. He asks that folks “please be patient; it is extremely complex moving through the environmental review process.”

In addition to the deadwood removal, the BLCC crews will be removing French broom and working on shaded fuel breaks on Candy Lane and Martin Road. The priority for the fuel break on Candy Lane has been recently bumped up due to a request from the Fire Safe Council, according to Haley. The council helped obtain the grant that sponsors the BLCC teams. Haley says the fuel breaks will be widened by 10 feet and the endangered manzanita plants will be flagged for protection.

Due to his frequent fieldwork, the best way to contact Conrad Jones is by email at


The RBDA Wants YOU!

Currently we have 143 paying members from 95 different households. There are 63 households whose memberships lapsed this year, which have yet to renew, and 59 additional households whose memberships expired in 2010 (and 177 from previous years)! You will be getting reminder notices in the mail soon (you may already have them). Please remember to send them back in so we can keep you on our list of up-to-date members. If you receive a notice at your address for someone who no longer lives there, please let us know by email, phone or by snail mail—and then join up yourself.

A robust RBDA membership is also important in our dealings with government agencies and elected officials. They tend to listen and respond to strong and well-informed constituencies. It also helps to show that we have a strong membership when working with other non-profits and when persuading speakers to present at our meetings. Your membership dues help produce The Highlander, which goes out free to ALL Bonny Dooners and makes possible our bi-monthly forum/presentation at Bonny Doon Elementary School.

An Apology

In our online copy of the February/March issue of The Highlander, we displayed a photo of a red-legged frog without the permission of its photographer, Rob Schell. The picture was removed from the website immediately upon discovery of our oversight. It is always the intention of those responsible for publication of The Highlander to respect copyright rules. We apologize for the unauthorized use of Mr. Schell’s photograph.

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
RBDA General Meetings, which are usually held on second Wednesdays of 
January, March, May, July, September and November.
We encourage you to participate. 

 Send mail correspondence to the Highlander Editor at the above address, 
or by email, below.

Contact the RBDA Board in one email

The Bonny Doon Planning District
Bonny Doon Planning District map

If you live in or own property within this district, roughly from Empire Grade to the ocean and from San Vicente Creek to the City of Santa Cruz border, you are eligible to be an RBDA member.

Please support the RBDA!
Dues payments count for a full year from date received.
Dues mostly go for printing and mailing The Highlander,
your voice for keeping Bonny Doon rural and natural.
Those who make additional contributions qualify as:

CONTRIBUTORS ($ 25 + dues)
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PATRONS ($ 100 + dues)

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