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Water Quality

Santa Cruz County is home to coastal beaches, freshwater streams, lagoons, reservoirs, and ponds. The County's multi-faceted approach for protecting water resources includes extensive field monitoriing, laboratory investigations, management of on-site wastewater systems, and investigations of livestock management operations.

Water Quality Monitoring

The County has a robust field and laboratory program for monitoring water quality with a focus on public health protection. The County's water quality program encompasses:

  • Recreational water: Locations that are visited for primary contact recreation and desigated as 'REC-1' by the State of California. Primary contact recreation includes swimming, surfing, wading, diving, water skiing, and situations where there is direct water contact. The focus of the recreational water quality program is to determine if there are potential health risks from swallowing water.
  • Watersheds: The County conducts routine surveillance of water quality in watersheds to evaluate impacts from landuse activities, the effectiveneess of management practices, and track compliance with the Clean Water Act. Intensive water quality monitoring is conducted in the San Lorenzo River watershed in accordance with the San Lorenzo Valley wastewater management plan. 
  • Groundwater/Drinking Water: The County evaluates water quality in groundwater and drinking water systems to determine if there is evidence of bacterial contamination, saltwater intrusion, or other water quality concerns.
  • Investigations: Field screening and monitoring is conducted in response to spills, illicit discharges, and other water quality concerns.

Onsite wastewater management

There are more than 22,000 on-site wastewater systems in Santa Cruz County. Many of the existing systems pre-date current regulations and policies which incorporate lot size, proximity to flowing water, groundwater levels, slopes, and soil types.  The County has an active program to mitigate potential pollution sources that may inadvertently be released from on-site wastewater systems.

Livestock manure management

Proper management of manure from livestock, ranching and horse operations is important for protecting water quality in rivers, creeks, streams and wetland resources. State and County regulations promote best practices for animal waste management, mitigating erosion, and “good neighbor” behavior. The County conducts periodic inspections to assess potential water quality impacts.