Streams, from large rivers to small creeks, touch the lives of every Santa Cruz

County resident. More than 770 miles of waterways flow through the County,

so no one lives very far from a creek, stream, or river. By providing water

supply, wildlife habitat, flood capacity, and aesthetic and recreation values,

our waterways comprise an invaluable resource–but one that can be easily

damaged by careless actions or improper land use.

Since most streamside acreage is in private ownership, much of the

responsibility for the life and health of our streams lies with you, the streamside

resident or property owner. Proper management of your stream bank and its

vegetation can prevent or minimize erosion, preserve water quality, contribute

to the survival of the area’s fish and wildlife, help avoid flood losses, and

protect property values.

The principles of proper stream care are simple, but they require your active

participation. This booklet seeks to stimulate that participation and to guide you

in your stream stewardship. With a little care, you can preserve and enhance

your streamside environment and protect Santa Cruz County’s heritage of

productive streams.

from the Introduction to Santa Cruz County Stream Care Guide

design by Dr. Bill Henry
WestCliff Restoration Project & Ground Swell

The Riparian Corridor

The riparian corridor is the area adjacent to the stream

that supports a plant and animal community adapted

to flooding or wet conditions. Willow, alder, big leaf

maple and cottonwood are common riparian tree

species. Redwood and Douglas-fir often inhabit the

riparian corridor, particularly in the upper reaches of

the watersheds. All of these tree species contribute

to bank stability, shade, undercut banks, and woody

material within the stream. Understory plants, such

as ferns and native blackberry, are also important

components of the riparian ecosystem.

In the County of Santa Cruz, the riparian corridor

is a protected habitat as defined by the Riparian

Corridor and Wetlands Protection Ordinance. For

many properties, the protected riparian corridor is

50’ from the bankfull flowline or the extent of riparian woodland. However, the extent of the riparian corridor varies depending on the type of stream and whether

the property is urban or rural (see page 22).

Healthy streams need banks with undisturbed

native vegetation. Riparian plants not only provide

critical wildlife habitat, they also directly affect living

conditions in the stream itself. Leaves and insects

dropping from nearby trees and shrubs supply food

for many aquatic animals, while plant roots stabilize

the bank, preventing erosion.

Some streambank erosion is natural. Small areas

of erosion can provide open areas for new tree

seedlings to colonize. However, large areas of erosion

can significantly degrade the habitat quality within

the stream. Whenever possible, you should avoid

“improving” your creekside area by mowing, clearing,

or stripping vegetation. If you are considering

altering your streambank vegetation, you should first

consult with the County, as a permit may be required

(see page 22, the Riparian Corridor and Wetlands

Protection Ordinance, for details).

In times of flooding, a well‑vegetated streambank is

your property’s best protection from bank erosion.

The plants growing there are uniquely adapted

to surviving flood conditions, providing erosion

protection at high flows, and recovering quickly when

flood waters subside. The roots of riparian trees,

especially willows, stabilize streambanks by holding

the soil together with their strong roots.

Riparian Corridor and Wetlands Protection Ordinance.

For many properties, the protected riparian corridor is

50’ from the bankfull flowline or the extent of riparian

woodland. However, the extent of the riparian corridor

varies depending on the type of stream and whether

the property is urban or rural (see page 22).

Healthy streams need banks with undisturbed

native vegetation. Riparian plants not only provide

critical wildlife habitat, they also directly affect living

conditions in the stream itself. Leaves and insects

dropping from nearby trees and shrubs supply food

for many aquatic animals, while plant roots stabilize

the bank, preventing erosion.

Some streambank erosion is natural. Small areas

of erosion can provide open areas for new tree

seedlings to colonize. However, large areas of erosion

can significantly degrade the habitat quality within

the stream. Whenever possible, you should avoid

“improving” your creekside

area by mowing, clearing, 

or stripping vegetation. If you are considering

altering your streambank vegetation, you should first

consult with the County, as a permit may be required

(see page 22, the Riparian Corridor and Wetlands

Protection Ordinance, for details).

In times of flooding, a well‑vegetated streambank is

your property’s best protection from bank erosion.

The plants growing there are uniquely adapted

to surviving flood conditions, providing erosion

protection at high flows, and recovering quickly when

flood waters subside. The roots of riparian trees,

especially willows, stabilize streambanks by holding

the soil together with their strong roots.

Riparian vegetation can also act as a sediment and

nutrient filter, trapping sediment from adjacent

properties and absorbing most of the nutrients

released by animals, fertilizers, and septic systems

(60–95%). To be an effective filter, this zone of

vegetation must be sufficiently wide, and the shrubs,

vines, and grasses of the understory, not just the trees,

must be present.

Save the Heart of the Circles

savetheheartofthecircles@gmail.com

© 2020 by ArtDialogue

All materials and content herein may be used by permission only, except that which is held by Common Law.