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Preserving natural beauty: Coastal Watershed Council shares their ongoing mission to protect our community

Coastal Watershed Council watershed rangers
Learn how the Coastal Watershed Council is working with local government, business owners, and the community to enact positive changes for the better, balancing ecology of a growing city like Santa Cruz.
(Coastal Watershed Council)

If there was ever a time to reflect on how we interact with our environment, that time is now. With various environmental concerns, local and global, ranging from droughts and fires to the blazing climate crisis, it’s critical for towns to seriously consider their role in conserving natural resources.

This is where revolutionary local organizations such as Santa Cruz’s Coastal Watershed Council (CWC) come into play. For nearly 27 years, the CWC has ardently worked to preserve and protect coastal watersheds through community stewardship, education, and monitoring. In the wake of the recent expansive developments taking Downtown Santa Cruz by storm, the CWC has taken a pivotal role in ensuring our robust ecosystem remains balanced with our growing city.

Most notably, their work with the San Lorenzo River has positioned them as leading advocates for the revitalization of this invaluable resource. While this work has proven difficult, the CWC is unwaveringly committed to highlighting the environmental benefits the San Lorenzo River offers, cementing it as a vital fixture of the city’s welfare.

CWC’s focused efforts on the riverwalk have increased community trust and confidence in a shared vision for the river, as well as civic milestones such as a public partnership with the City of Santa Cruz. This last year in particular witnessed CWC’s partnership with Santa Cruz City Schools to empower youth in caring for our river, as well as an expansion of their investments in riverfront parks through volunteer restoration efforts.

Coastal Watershed Council’s Executive Director, Laurie Egan, spoke to Lookout earlier this year about her team’s work to assert just how crucial these efforts are to the overall conservation of our beloved city. “One of the things I love about working on the San Lorenzo River [is that] it’s really complex,” says Egan. “It touches on every opportunity and challenge that faces Santa Cruz. In my role, I get to learn about development, engineering, climate resilience, and community engagement.”

Despite various challenges that have presented themselves in the midst of a booming developmental overhaul of the river’s surrounding environment, Egan explains that an enduring focus on reconnecting the community to the river must be maintained.

“Our work, no matter what sector or space that you’re in, really intersects with so many other things happening in the surrounding communities. Lots of new leaders are thinking about how their day-to-day work or company’s mission intersects with things like community health or urban development or public spaces and that, I think, is a somewhat different approach than perhaps some of our predecessors had.”

— Laurie Egan, Executive Director of Coastal Watershed Council | April 2022 for Lookout Santa Cruz

The San Lorenzo River is why this community formed. Read on to learn how the Coastal Watershed Council has and continues to guarantee the river’s role as a catalyst for positive environmental conservation in Santa Cruz.

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    Help Protect our Coastal Environments
    It’s easy to donate to your river. The Coastal Watershed Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered as a public benefit corporation with the California Secretary of State and the Federal IRS. All contributions are tax-deductible. Federal Tax ID # 68-0368798. Visit our website to learn more.

Our Programs

Coastal Watershed Council
(Coastal Watershed Council)

Building Community: The Coastal Watershed Council opens pathways, figuratively and literally, so that every Santa Cruzan re-discovers and learns to love their river. From projects that connect Santa Cruz to our cultural heritage to projects that strengthen neighborhood connections, CWC collaborates with youth and adults to implement projects that benefit people and the planet.

Habitat Enhancement/Engaging Volunteers: During our monthly River Health Days, volunteers work to revegetate the river bank to slow the spread of invasive plants along the 2.5-mile-long Santa Cruz Riverwalk and cultivate plants that provide bank stability, food, shade, and shelter for birds, insects, and wildlife. At the end of each River Health Day, you can reflect on the habitat you helped and the people you connected with, and know that you made a difference in your community.

cwc watershed rangers 2
(Coastal Watershed Council)

Environmental Education/Watershed Rangers: Our Watershed Rangers are the 1,000+ K-5th grade students who participate in CWC’s series of lessons and field trips to explore and learn about the San Lorenzo River each year. At the series end, CWC supports students in planning and leading an action project that helps to improve the river’s water quality and habitat.

Coastal Watershed Council
(Coastal Watershed Council)

Improving Water Quality: While the San Lorenzo River is cleaner than you might think, several challenges precede a healthy riverbank, including pollution, sediment, and nutrients. A unique cohort of water quality experts and stormwater specialists from the City of Santa Cruz Water Department and Public Works Department, Santa Cruz County Public Works and Environmental Health Services, Surfrider Foundation, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Coastal Watershed Council has been collaborating to address water quality concerns in the San Lorenzo River, focusing on bacteria.