Surface Water Stewardship

Santa Cruz County is home to coastal beaches, freshwater streams, lagoons, reservoirs and ponds. The County's multi-faceted approach for protecting water resources includes extensive field monitoring, laboratory investigations, and response to stormwater impacts and potentially improper livestock manure management.

Water Quality Monitoring
The County has a robust field and laboratory program for monitoring water quality with a focus on public health protection. The County's water quality program encompasses:

  • Recreational water: Locations that are visited for primary contact recreation. Primary contact recreation includes swimming, surfing, wading, diving, water skiing and situations where there is direct water contact. The focus of the recreational water quality program is to determine if there are potential health risks from swallowing water.
  • Watersheds: The County conducts routine surveillance of water quality in watersheds to evaluate impacts from land use activities, the management practices effectiveness and track compliance with the Clean Water Act. Intensive water quality monitoring is conducted in the San Lorenzo River watershed in accordance with the San Lorenzo Valley wastewater management plan.
  • Investigations: Field screening and monitoring is conducted in response to spills, illicit discharges and other water quality concerns.

Algal Blooms

During the Fall, it is common to see naturally occuring algal blooms as low water level, high nutrient levels, and high temperatures create the perfect conditions for algal growth. Some algae, such as blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can create toxins that are harmful to people and may be fatal to pets. Health risks to humans include respiratory problems, liver problems, skin rashes, and gastro-intestinal upsets. Brownish or rust-colored algal blooms should also be avoided. 

If you come across a waterbody that has an unusual color or odor due to algal growth, the best way to protect your health is to avoid contact with it.  Residents should heed posted advisories and wash your skin with clean water should an exposure occur. 

The State has a Harmful Algal Blooms portal full of information about algal blooms. 

Stormwater Runoff Protection
The prevention of illicit discharges (the release of anything other than rainwater into the county storm drain system or receiving waters) is regulated through the County’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Storm Water Discharges from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) General Permit, and enforcement of the County Runoff and Pollution Control Ordinance. The purpose of both the MS4 General Permit and related ordinance is to protect local streams, rivers, and beaches from pollution that can travel through the storm drains to sensitive habitats. Environmental Health works with other departments in the County to respond to reports of illicit discharges, and to monitor waterways for signs of possible pollution.

Livestock Manure Management
Proper management of manure from livestock, ranching and horse operations is important for protecting water quality in rivers, creeks, streams and wetland resources. State and County regulations promote best practices for animal waste management, mitigating erosion and “good neighbor” behavior. The County conducts periodic inspections to assess potential water quality impacts.