Water Resources

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

SLO County’s North Coast Watersheds

 A century ago, John Wesley Powell, the great explorer of America’s West, penned a durable definition of a watershed. It is “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by a common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community." 


Watersheds form fundamental land-based ecosystems and interact directly with marine ecosystems. This is clear along California’s biologically rich Central Coast, where anadromous fish species such as salmon and steelhead migrate annually from the ocean, moving inland to coastal creeks and rivers to spawn, then travel back to sea when conditions are ripe. As the foundation of local environmental health, watersheds and lagoons require monitoring, of water quality and quantity, temperature, runoff, erosion, sedimentation, adequate streamflow in order for ensure survival of these species. Species diversity and populations are further impacted by coastal and ocean impacts from land, industrial uses of the ocean, and climate change. 


Greenspace – The Cambria Land Trust works with agencies and others in the community of Cambria and its surrounding agricultural lands to define and implement the most resilient and sustainable means to provide adequate water resources to residential and commercial users, agriculture, and the area’s native ecosystems and wildlife.

Marine Ecosystems

On April 13, 2007, the California Fish & Game Commission adopted a landmark plan to protect the scenic coastline and rich marine habitat of the central coast by establishing an offshore network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) between Santa Barbara and San Mateo counties. The top goal of the act was to “protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function, and integrity of marine ecosystems.” 


The new MPAs are based on the best available science and are the product of an open and transparent three-year public process with an unprecedented level of stakeholder involvement. Greenspace specifically advocated for the creation of the Pt. Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve and Conservation Area, the Cambria State Marine Park, White Rock Conservation Area, and Morro Bay Estuary. In total, 28 Central Coast Marine Protected Areas were created offering various levels of protection and the process moved forward, eventually encompassing MPAs connecting the entire coastline of California.


The Central Coast study region is one of the most biologically productive regions in the world. The region is characterized as having high biodiversity, with 26 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, more than 300 species of fish, 4 species of sea turtles, 31 phyla (thousands of species) of invertebrates and more than 450 species of marine algae. The biodiversity of this marine region was one of the driving factors in the designation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, which is adjacent to the entire north coast of San Luis Obispo County, and for the founding of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1978. 

Water Supply

The issue of water resources is an old and contentious one in the Cambria area. Its history goes back at least to 1914, when the water ranchers and farmers had claimed along San Simeon and Santa Rosa Creeks came under a loose oversight framework established by the State Water Commission. Over the past 100 years, it has become clear here and everywhere in California that the amount of water actually used is poorly tracked and highly uncertain (Little Hoover Commission, 2010).


Two watersheds serve the community of Cambria, Santa Rosa Creek and San Simeon Creek. Presently, commercial and residential water is drawn from wells drilled by the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) into the groundwater basins of both these creeks. These basins are shallow and dependent on seasonal rainfall for recharge. Population growth in Cambria from the 1970s, development pressure in a region that is mostly open space, severe periodic droughts, and issues between the District and upstream water right holders have indicated a need for additional water resources for several years.