The BIG Picture

What is a Watershed?

Many people have seen the word ‘watershed’ throughout community initiatives, but what is its exact definition? A watershed is an area of land that drains rainfall and snowmelt through creeks and streams into larger bodies of water. The size of watersheds vary drastically, as some encompass a single county while others can occupy thousands of square miles. Watersheds provide benefits such as water filtration, wildlife habitat, nutrient cycling, and flood control. The surrounding community relies on watersheds for drinking water, recreation, and economic interests such as agriculture.

From Ridges to Ocean: San Lorenzo Valley’s Restoration Revelation

The San Lorenzo Valley (SLV) watershed encompasses 138 square miles and is located in the southern range of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The watershed begins along the Boulder Creek ridgeline at 2,500 feet and stretches to the Pacific Ocean via the San Lorenzo River. The 29-mile San Lorenzo River, fed by its creeks and streams, defines this unique watershed.

This area hosts an array of endangered species and species that exist nowhere else in the world, making it a hotspot for biodiversity. Similarly, this watershed comprises many ecosystems, including mixed evergreen redwood forests, sandhills, chaparral, and oak woodlands.

San Lorenzo Valley Faces Watershed Challenges

The San Lorenzo Valley shares challenges characteristic of watersheds nationwide. The leading causes of decline include erosion, nutrient runoff, and pollution.  The increased severity of wildfire, drought, and flooding from climate change emphasizes the importance of community action to improve the SLV watershed.

The San Lorenzo Valley is a unique microcosm of natural beauty with citizens committed to community action. Unfortunately, there have been years of degradation of the native habitat and a lack of understanding of improving watershed health. Although many San Lorenzo community members are aware of the local environment’s decline, knowing where to start to make a change is often daunting.

What are the benefits of Habitat Restoration?

A Transformative Journey

Imagine a stream winding through your neighborhood, choked with trash and overrun by invasive plants. The magnitude of pollution is staggering, threatening the stream and the entire ecosystem it touches. Now, envision a community-driven initiative to restore this creek, not just for the well-being of your neighborhood but for a healthy native habitat and surrounding environment.

But how do we begin such a transformative journey? The key lies in understanding what it takes to revive a habitat. With knowledge about native vegetation, local fauna, and the nuances of the climate, we pave the way for successful habitat restoration. This involves recognizing various habitat types and ecosystems and tailoring our strategies to the specific needs of each area. For instance, planting shade-loving vegetation in a sun-soaked environment won't yield the desired results.

The Benefits of Restoration

Undoubtedly, the prospect of restoring an entire habitat can seem overwhelming, given the vast amount of information required for effective implementation.

However, the payoff is tremendous. Picture improved air quality, as the revived habitat acts as a natural air purifier. Witness the stream transform into a pristine water source, contributing to water purification—brace for an explosion of biodiversity, with native species thriving once again. Experience enhanced protection against wildfires as the revitalized habitat becomes a natural barrier. And don't forget the bonus of integrating native plant spaces with recreational spaces that unite communities.

In the grand scheme of things, the effort invested in habitat restoration is a small price to pay for the multitude of advantages it brings. It's a holistic approach that rejuvenates the environment and fosters a sense of community pride and shared responsibility.

So, let's turn the daunting task of habitat restoration into a collective venture for a brighter, healthier, and more vibrant future!

Map courtesy of and © Santa Cruz County Geographic Information Systems

Community Sites Under Restoration:

The San Lorenzo River Estuary Re-vegetation Project

Lompico Pond Restoration and Demonstration Project

Henry Cowell Redwood State Park

Roaring Camp Railroad

New Felton Library

Mountain Community Resources

Highlands County Park

Highlands Senior Citizens Center

Santa Cruz Mountain Art Center

Wilder Hall Nursery School

Ben Lomond Library

Ben Lomond Park

San Lorenzo Valley Museum

Boulder Creek Library

Monarch Butterfly Pollinator Gardens

Have a site to recommend?

Contact us!

Community Action: What We Can Do

Removing invasive plants and restoring native species is the principal focus of our organization’s efforts. Join the initiative to save native habitat by starting in your backyard to eradicate invasive plants! Our team has led groups of AmeriCorps teams, school groups, and community organizations in invasive plant removal work days. Community members of all ages can join in the stewardship of this unique environment.

With sustained community involvement, the Native Habitat Restoration Program (NHRP) aspires to promote three goals in the San Lorenzo Valley:

  1. Protect our watershed
  2. Restore native habitat
  3. Involve/connect the community in these endeavors

Removal of invasive plants and the restoration of native plants is nicely summarized in the following excerpt from Landscope, an online resource developed by Nature Serve and the National Geographic Society:

“Replanting and restoring riparian buffers along streams and rivers is one of the most effective strategies for improving the health of urban and rural watersheds. It helps control soil erosion, reduce and filter sediments and pollutants, and reduce flooding in addition to providing fish and wildlife habitat.”

The NHRP desires to assist all individuals and citizens in making informed decisions and right choices and understand that a small, conscious effort now can lead to a healthier environment in the future.