EMBANKMENT crowded with invasive species, Savannah grasses, iceplant, etc.
design by Dr. Bill Henry
WestCliff Restoration Project & Ground Swell
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
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 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.
Riparian Corridor and Wetlands Protection Ordinance.
Beginning in 2015, we started clearing the ice plant on the west side of the creek at WestCliff, with help from volunteers and the support of the City of Santa Cruz. Landscape architect Richard DeSanto drew some plans and worked with Bill Henry at Groundswell to begin the master plan for plantings. We dubbed this first phase of the project "W x W" because of the cross streets at Woodrow and WestCliff.
clearing out invasive iceplant, (by hand!), 2016
why? Iceplant was introduced along the
California coastlines in the 1950's to help
contain erosion. We now know that while it's
roots are strong, iceplant becomes a breeding
ground for rats, who eat the eggs of our
seabirds, who nest near the shores. By re-
introducing native plants along the coastal
regions, we can help restore the biodiversity of
the region. See interview with Bill Henry, 2012