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Unseen Threats

From Highlights from A Conservation Blueprint

The beauty of what surrounds us can blind us to the problems and threats that face our natural world. The people of Santa Cruz County – along with many partners at the state and federal levels – are rightfully proud of what we have done to protect our county. The challenge is to follow in the footsteps of previous generations whose actions have protected the county we know today. It is now our turn to act to protect Santa Cruz County for future generations.

The Conservation Blueprint is built on an exhaustive analysis of available information about our county and extensive engagement with more than a hundred experts about the land and natural resources of the area. At the end of this 18-month process we have found that the health of Santa Cruz County’s plants, animals, habitats, and water are in decline – and are faced with threats that will accelerate that decline, unless we take action.

Population Growth
In the 1960s and 1970s Santa Cruz County was one of the fastest growing counties in the state, growing annually by an average of 4.6%. In response to this threat the voters approved Measure J, which placed limits on growth and sought to preserve agricultural lands and natural resources. Since that time the county’s annual growth rate has dropped to 1.3%, well below the state average – and well below that of surrounding counties.

Santa Cruz County’s growth rate is projected to remain where it is, but even that rate will see the addition of 35,000 people and 17,000 housing units over the next 25 years. And Santa Cruz County cannot escape the impact of far greater growth in surrounding counties. Roads, parks, jobs and housing in Santa Cruz County will be impacted by the projected addition of 146,000 people in the Monterey Bay Region. In the next generation the four counties surrounding us – Santa Clara, San Benito, San Mateo, and Monterey – will have a combined population of four million.

Resource Challenges
This population growth threatens the long-term viability of biodiversity as land is converted, wildlife habitats fragmented by roads and fences, and streams and rivers degraded by erosion and pollutants. The Conservation Blueprint has mapped development potential under the current County General Plan, including the building of second units on existing parcels in rural areas. Such rural development isn’t as visually noticeable as suburban sprawl, but it can damage fragile natural areas and sever critical wildlife linkages.

The county’s already impaired water resources will face major challenges in the next 25 years. Already 18 streams and rivers in the county fail to meet the standards of the federal Clean Water Act, and underground aquifers that supply 80% of the county’s water are in overdraft – which means we are pumping more water than is replaced through groundwater recharge. These water challenges threaten the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, the quality and supply of our drinking water, and the future of our agriculture industry.

Most of Santa Cruz County is productive working land – farm, timber, and range land. The Conservation Blueprint prioritizes the protection of these lands as both economic and natural resources. The viability of these lands is challenged in a variety of ways, including water shortages, climate change, regulatory demands, and development pressures.

threat index

Climate Change
Perhaps the greatest conservation challenge facing us is global climate change. Over the next century, the region is forecast to experience a much hotter and drier climate, which will have cascading effects on water resources, plant and wildlife, and agriculture. Stream flows will be reduced, infiltration into aquifers will decline, flooding will increase, sea level will rise, and saltwater intrusion into aquifers will increase.

As alarming as these challenges are, we can take action now to address them. Already Santa Cruz County has an array of policies and programs in place to respond to these challenges. The Conservation Blueprint builds on work that has been done and programs underway – and offers additional practical, innovative, and strategic ways to respond to these threats.

 

More about the Conservation Blueprint