California Coastal Conservancy

The California Coastal Conservancy is a state agency in California established in 1976 to enhance coastal resources and access.


The agency's official goals are to:

  • Protect and improve coastal wetlands, streams and watersheds
  • Help people get to coasts and shores by building trails and stairways and creating low cost accommodation including campgrounds and hostels
  • Work with local communities to revitalize urban watersheds
  • Help solve complex land-use problems
  • Purchase and hold environmentally valuable coastal and bay lands
  • Protect Agricultural lands and support coastal agriculture
  • Accept donations and dedication of land and easements for public access, wildlife habitat, agriculture and open spaces

Since its conception, the Conservancy has completed over 2,400 projects along the California coastline and San Francisco Bay, protected over 390,000 acres of coastal land and restored over 33,000 acres of coastal habitat, built over 210 miles of new trail and spent over 1.4 billion dollars on projects. It works in partnership with other public agencies, nonprofit organizations and private landowners, employing 75 people and overseeing a current annual budget of 53 million dollars.[1] The Conservancy was created by the legislature as a unique entity with flexible powers to serve as an intermediary among government, citizens, and the private sector in recognition that creative approaches would be needed to preserve California's coast line.[1]

Program areas

The Conservancy has six main program areas:[1]

  • Public Access: Provide capital funds and technical assistance for the construction of public access stairs; trails, limited-mobility-access projects, hostels, interpretive signs and other facilities that serve state and regional coastal access needs.
  • Resource Enhancement: Provides capital funds and technical assistance for the preservation, enhancement and restoration of wetlands, watersheds, riparian corridors, and other wildlife habitat lands.
  • Agricultural Preservation: Provide capital funds and technical assistance to prevent the loss of coastal agricultural lands to other uses by acquiring interests in such lands, installing agricultural improvements and protective measures.
  • Site Reservation: Provide capital funds and technical assistance to safeguard significant coastal resource sites and responds to opportunities to acquire such sites when other agencies are unable to do so.
  • Urban waterfronts: Provide capital funds and technical assistance to protect, restore and expand coastal-dependent recreation, commercial and industrial facilities and to expand opportunities for public access and use of urban waterfronts in conjunction with new development.
  • Non-profit assistance: Provide capital funds and assistance to nonprofit land conservation organizations to aid them in implementing conservancy projects and in developing cost-effective local management of resource land and public access facilities.


The conservancy has completed more than 2,400 projects along the California coast line and in the San Francisco bay.[1] These projects have included preserving almost 20,000 acres (81 km2) of wetlands, dunes, wildlife habitat, recreation lands, farmland, and scenic open space, building hundreds of miles of access ways and trails along the coast line, and assisting in the completion of more than 100 urban waterfront projects.[1] The Conservancy is currently involved in over three hundred projects in the San Francisco Bay and up and down the California coast, including:

California Coastal Trail

Once completed, the California Coastal Trail (CCT) will extend 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from Oregon to Mexico, making it one of the longest trails in the United States. While informal trails along our coast have been used for centuries, CCT was initiated in 1972 when Californians passed Proposition 20 recommending that a trails system be established along or near the coast. In 1999, the CCT was designated at the state and federal level as Millennium Legacy Trail, and in 2001 state legislation called for its completion. Roughly half of the CCT was complete in 2009.[2]

Enacted in 1976, the State Coastal Conservancy Act (Division 21 Section 31000 et al. of the Public Resources Code)[3] calls for the Coastal Conservancy to have a principal role in the implementation of a system of public accessways to and along the state's coastline, including development of the CCT. The Coastal Conservancy pursues this mandate in part by awarding grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations to acquire land, or any interest therein, or to develop, operate, or manage lands for public access purposes to and along the coast, on terms and conditions the Coastal Conservancy specifies. In addition, the Coastal Conservancy works with other state agencies including the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the Coastal Commission to coordinate trail development.[2]

In 2001, the Governor signed Senate Bill 908 directing the Coastal Conservancy to report back to the Legislature on progress made completing the trail.[4] In 2003, the “Completing the California Coastal Trail” Report described the status of the trail and outlined strategies for its completion. SB 908 also directed the Coastal Conservancy to provide grants and assistance to establish and expand inland trail systems that may be linked to the trail, and directed agencies with property interests or regulatory authority in coastal areas to cooperate with the Coastal Conservancy with respect to planning and making lands available for completion of the trail.

In 2007, the Governor signed SB 1396 directing the Coastal Conservancy to coordinate development of the Coastal Trail with the Caltrans. This bill also required local transportation planning agencies whose jurisdiction includes a portion of the Coastal Trail, or property designated for the trail to coordinate with the Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission, and Caltrans regarding development of the trail.

Napa Sonoma Marsh Restoration Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Conservancy, and the California Department of Fish and Game conducted a feasibility study and preparing an Environmental Impact Report / Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS), which involves the technical Analysis of Alternatives for the restoration of 10,000 acres (40 km2) of wetlands and associated habitats within the former Cargill salt pond complex in the North Bay.[5]

The goals of this project are to restore large patches of tidal marsh that support a wide variety of fish, wildlife and plants, including special status mammals and water birds - specifically the salt marsh harvest mouse, California clapper rail, and black rail, endangered fish - specifically the delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, and aquatic animals. They will also be managing water depth to maximize wildlife habitat diversity, with shallow-water areas for migratory and resident shore birds and deep-water areas for diving ducks.

Carmel River Reroute and San Clemente Dam Removal Project

The project involves the Conservancy, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Conservation League Foundation and the Californian American Water company (CalAm) working together to remove the San Clemente Dam. Since the dams construction in 1921, the Carmel River has suffered from accelerated erosion, and the once vibrant steelhead trout run has dramatically decreased.[6]

The benefits of the dam removal include recovery of central coast steelhead trout (a threatened species) by proving unimpaired access to over 25 miles (40 km) of spawning and rearing habitat, expansion of public recreation by preserving over 900 acres (3.6 km2) of coastal watershed lands, restoration of a natural sediment regime improving the habitat for steelhead trout, reducing beach erosion that now contributes to destabilization of homes, roads and infrastructure, and improvement of habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog.[6]

The total project cost for the project is estimated at $83 million.[6] According to the implementation agreement, CalAm will pay an amount equivalent to the estimated cost of buttressing the dam, or approximately $49 million.[6] The Conservancy, with assistance from the NMFS, will secure the additional $34 million from state, federal, and private foundation sources.[6] Construction of the project is expected to take three years - activities will be restricted to approximately April to November to avoid the rainy season and impact to migrating steelhead. During years two and three of construction, the Carmel River and San Clemente Creek will be diverted around the reservoir and dam site, and the reservoir will be emptied.[6]

Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP)

The Integrated Watershed Restoration Program (IWRP; pronounced "I Werp") for Santa Cruz County was formed in 2002 as a county wide effort to prioritize watershed restoration. The IWRP's objectives are to:

  • Coordinate agencies on the identification, funding and implementation of watershed restoration projects
  • Target proposals to critical projects supported by the resource agencies
  • Facilitate higher quality designs at lower costs
  • Simplify the permit process for water shed restoration
  • Effect institutional change to improve water shed restoration efforts
  • Develop a countywide outreach and education program
  • Develop a monitoring program geared toward future project identification needs
  • Develop additional assessments and plans
  • Serve as a water restoration information hub for Santa Cruz county.

The Conservancy awarded 4.5 million to the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County in June 2003 to initiate Phase 1 of the IWRP[7] focused on pre-implementation activities including designs and permits for nearly 100 critical watershed restoration projects in Santa Cruz County[7] including expansion of rural roads, technical assistance programs, comparative lagoon ecological assessment projects, countywide outreach and education program development, watershed education activity and resource guides, and coordination of resources: annual watershed partner forum, reporting, website and technical assistance.[7]

South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project

The project is being headed by the state of California and the federal government to restore 15,100 acres (61 km2) of Cargill's former salt ponds in San Francisco Bay.[8] In October 2000, Cargill proposed to consolidate its operations and sell lands and salt production rights on 61 percent of its South Bay Operation area. Negotiations were headed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and a framework agreement was signed in May 2002 by the conservancy, the California Resources Agency, the Wildlife Conservation Board, the California Department of Fish and Game, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Cargill and Senator Feinstein.[8] California approved purchase of the property on February 11, 2003. The land is currently managed and owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Services and the Department of Fish and Game.[8] The goal of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is to restore 90 percent of the former salt ponds to natural wetlands. The Native Plant Nursery at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is providing plants to the restoration project. The SBSRP, with over 15,000 acres and a 50-year plan, is the largest wetlands restoration project on the West coast, providing the benefits of wetland restoration including flood control, pollution reduction, habitat expansion for wildlife, and public access and recreation for people.[9]

The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is integrating restoration with flood management, while also providing for public access and wildlife-oriented recreation and education opportunities.[8] Restored tidal marshes will provide critical habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. Large marsh areas will also provide extensive channel systems which will provide habitat for aquatic life and harbor seals.[8] Flood management will also be integrated to protect local communities. Restoration will also offer many opportunities for public use including trails for hiking and biking, hunting, bird watching, environmental education and other recreational opportunities.[8]

Invasive Spartina Project

The Invasive Spartina Project is a coordinated regional effort among local, state and federal organizations dedicated to preserving California's extraordinary coastal biological resources through the elimination of introduced species of Spartina.[10] Cordgrasses are highly aggressive invaders that significantly alter both the physical structure and biological composition of our tidal marshes, mudflats and creeks.[10] The control program is the "action arm" of the San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project, a project of the conservancy. The program uses an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) approach to prioritize and implement control efforts.[10]

Applying this approach, the control program uses all available scientific information regarding the San Francisco Estuary, the invasive cordgrasses, and the likely economic, sociological, and ecological consequences of both the invasion and the treatment program, to develop a management strategy that is effective, economical, and protective of public and environmental health.[10]

To implement the site-specific management strategies, the program relies heavily on partnerships developed with the landowners and managers around the Bay that have non-native Spartina growing on their lands. The conservancy provides treatment and eradication grants to these partners, who subsequently select an appropriate aquatic vegetation control contractor through a competitive bid process, or utilize their own equipment and crews in the case of flood control and mosquito abatement districts.[10] These partners are ultimately responsible for the success of the project through the long-term commitment to monitor and maintain the eradication efforts, and ensure that Spartina is not reintroduced to the system.[10]

Explore the Coast program

The Conservancy's Explore the Coast Grant program is a small grants program supporting programs that encourage all Californian's to explore and experience the coast, with a focus on under-served communities and young people. Since 2013, the Conservancy has awarded over $4 million in 150 separate grants for programs that bring people to the coast, increase stewardship of coastal resources, and provide educational opportunities. These grants prioritize projects that achieve one or more of these objectives:

  • Provide coastal experiences to lower-income or other underserved populations;
  • Increase the number of people visiting the coast;
  • Improve barrier-free access for persons with disabilities; and/or
  • Provide a valuable recreational, environmental, cultural or historic learning experience;
  • Increase stewardship of coastal resources; or
  • Enhance the public's coastal experience in a way that does not currently exist.


  1. "About the California State Coastal Conservancy". California State Coastal Conservancy. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  2. "California Coastal Trail". Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  3. "Division 21 Section 31000 et al". Public Resources Code. State of California. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  4. "SB 908, Chesbro. State Coastal Conservancy: California Coastal Trail". State of California. October 2, 2001. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  5. "Napa-Sonoma Marsh Restoration Project". Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  6. "San Clemente Dam Seismic Safety Project Mitigation Monitoring" (PDF). Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety Dams. 1 March 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  7. "Integrated Watershed Restoration Program for Santa Cruz County". Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  8. "South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project". Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  9. South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. (Pamphlet). California. 2009.
  10. "San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project". California Coastal Conservancy. Retrieved 21 September 2012.

Additional References

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