The Salinas River Permit Coordination Program
The Salinas 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. Salinas River PIR builds on the experience of the Elkhorn Slough PIR program and important multi-stakeholder efforts coordinated by local farm bureaus and the Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Salinas River PIR incorporates erosion control, road maintenance, and riparian enhancement management measures and makes it easier for the agricultural community to participate in implementing voluntary conservation projects. The project proponents—the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Resource Conservation District (RCD) of Monterey County, the WQPP and Sustainable Conservation, along with multiple public agencies—have crafted this program to enhance the Salinas River's natural habitat and reduce erosion and sedimentation in the river and the coastal environment downstream.
The core of the Salinas River PIR is the watershed-based agreements entered into by local, state, and federal regulatory agencies and the NRCS and the RCD of Monterey County. These agreements create "one-stop permit shopping" for farmers, growers, ranchers, and landowners and working with the NRCS and RCD of Monterey County on conservation projects. The watershed-based agreements cover sixteen different conservation practices and management measures in the Salinas River watershed. Under Salinas River PIR, a cooperator receiving technical and/or cost share assistance from the NRCS or the RCD of Monterey County is allowed to implement the associated conservation practices without seeking individual permits—provided they partner with the NRCS and RCD of Monterey County and carefully follow the terms of the program's agreements. The NRCS and RCD of Monterey County 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 staff have been great partners in this effort, providing important guidance and input. Agencies signing on to this innovative "one-stop permit shopping" include 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 Salinas River Watershed
The Salinas River Watershed covers approximately 4,600 square miles of San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties. The Salinas River flows northwesterly through the Salinas valley, emptying into Monterey Bay. The valley lies in the Coast Ranges and is defined to the west by the Sierra de Salinas and east by the Gabilan Range. The valley is 10 miles wide and 155 miles long. The primary land uses in the Salinas River watershed are row crops, vineyards, pasture and grazing lands, as well as urban areas, military bases and public open space.
The Monterey County portion of the watershed, which is the proposed geographic scope of this program, includes the Salinas River and its primary tributaries, the Arroyo Seco, Nacimiento, and San Antonio rivers. Waterways that may be affected under this program include:
- Alisal Slough
- Arroyo Seco River (and its tributaries Reliz Creek, Willow Creek, Piney Creek, Sand Creek, Tassajara Creek, Paloma Creek, and Santa Lucia Creek)
- Chalone Creek
- Gabilan Creek (and its tributary Mud Creek)
- Las Tablas Creek
- Nacimiento River
- Natividad Creek
- Salinas River (and its tributaries, including Big Sandy Creek, Chualar Creek, Hames Creek, Johnson Creek, Limekiln Creek, Monroe Creek, Pancho Rico Creek, Pine Creek, Quail Creek, San Lorenzo Creek, Toro Creek)
- San Antonio River
- San Marcos Creek
- Santa Rita Creek
- Temladero Slough (and its tributaries)
- Towne Creek
- Vaqueros Creek
Problems Facing the Salinas River Watershed
The Salinas Valley's rich, deep soil and mild climate have produced a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. These productive lands along the Salinas River are the "Salad Bowl of the Nation", producing the majority of the country's lettuce and other crops including broccoli, artichokes, strawberries, and cauliflower. The hills overlooking the valley have a long history of cattle production as well.
Unfortunately, the intense agricultural production has created a variety of problems for the area's natural resources. Rainfall and irrigation produce runoff that carries soils and associated pesticides and pollutants into the watercourses and down to the ocean. Clearing stream banks of vegetation has reduced and degraded habitat for avian and aquatic species. Erosion has filled the streams and reduced their natural functioning. The degradation of habitat and water quality has contributed to the steep decline in steelhead populations, and generally reduces the diversity of species and natural productivity of the area. Unabated, this continuing loss of natural functioning contributes to the overall decline of California's native plant and animal species and lowers the quality of life for our communities as well.
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 and 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 Salinas River watershed.
Participating in the Permit Coordination Program
To participate in the Salinas River PIR permit coordination program, you must contact the local NRCS office or RCD of Monterey County to see if your project can be covered by the program. Partnering with the NRCS/RCD of Monterey County 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 Salinas River PIR without the assistance of the NRCS or RCD of Monterey County.