Wetlands serve several very important functions:
- Flood Protection and Groundwater Recharge - Wetlands act as storage areas for storm water runoff. Trees and other wetland vegetation help slow the speed of runoff and reduce the water's erosive potential. In agricultural areas, wetlands can help to reduce the likelihood of flood damage to crops. Wetlands within urban areas are especially valuable for flood protection, because urban development increases the rate and volume of surface water runoff.
- Water Quality Improvement - Wetlands are particularly good water filters. They help maintain and improve water quality by removing and retaining nutrients, chemicals, organic wastes and sediment from runoff waters before they reach other receiving waters.
- Fish and Wildlife Habitat - Most commercial and game fish use coastal marshes and estuaries as nursery and/or spawning grounds. A variety of bird life, mammals, reptiles and amphibians use wetlands for food and shelter.
- Recreation and Aesthetics - Wetlands provide numerous opportunities for recreational activities.
Wetland areas in Santa Cruz County include numerous Santa Cruz long-toed salamander ponds, most notably the Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge established in 1975 and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Watsonville Sloughs System consists of six major branches: Watsonville Slough, Harkins Slough, Hanson Slough, Struve Slough, West Branch of Struve Slough and Gallighan Slough. The slough system is a network of approximately 800 acres of coastal salt marsh, seasonal wetlands, brackish and freshwater emergent marsh and riparian communities. The sloughs receive runoff from a 12,500 acre (19.5 square mile) watershed area which includes a mix of urban, industrial, rural residential, agricultural and open space areas.
As the largest remaining freshwater wetland on the Central Coast, with its large diversity of habitats and location on the avian Pacific Coast flyway, the Watsonville Sloughs system is an environmental resource of tremendous value.