Counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo

Public Outreach

In addition to general public outreach, information targeting property owners and students is also provided on the web site.

Brochures, Posters, Postcards, Presentations
Tri-County F.I.S.H. Team Fishing Regulation Signs were developed to be posted at creek access points to inform the public of fishing restrictions and to reduce illegal fishing impacts on steelhead populations.
No Fishing
Restricted Fishing

Tri-County F.I.S.H. Team Creek Care Guide Brochure: This brochure was created to raise awareness of simple things property owners can do to help keep our local creeks healthy.

Tri-County Fish Team Postcard: This document was created to help raise awareness about the Tri-County Fish Team's website. Please feel free to download this postcard.

Tri-County Fish Team Poster: This poster helps to raise awareness among tri-county residents on how they can help to protect steelhead in local streams.

Property Owners
Facts are provided here for citizens interested in improving habitat for steelhead. These have been adapted from the Santa Barbara County Creek Care Guide: What You Can Do to Protect Our Creeks. Click here for a PDF version of the information below.

Stewardship Tips
Protecting and Restoring Riparian Vegetation
Protecting Instream Habitat
Water Diversion
Minimizing Runoff From Your Property
Minimizing Soil Erosion
Preventing Erosion Problems
Correcting Erosion Problems
Building Away From the Creekbank and Floodplain

Overview: What You Can Do To Protect Our Creeks

The creeks, wetlands and watersheds of the tri-County area are vital parts of our natural economy. Whether they flow year-round or seasonally, the creeks in our community provide important benefits. They are home to steelhead trout and other wildlife. Creeks recharge groundwater. They carry floodwaters during heavy rains and transport sediment to nourish our beaches and coastlines. Creeks also provide a host of recreational and aesthetic benefits that contribute to our sense of place.

No two creeks are alike, but most creeks in the area share certain characteristics and challenges. The ways in which land is managed in a watershed strongly influence the conditions in the creek. Since most streamside property is privately owned, much of the responsibility for the life and health of our creeks lies with the people who live or work along them.

Through proper care of the stream you share, you can enhance your property and help prevent erosion problems, reduce flood losses, preserve water quality, and contribute to the survival of fish and wildlife. Understanding your creek and watershed and your role in protecting them is the first step in sustaining these important natural resources.

Stewardship tips for residents, ranches and businesses

Good stewardship is essential for healthy creeks. The people who live along or near County creeks play one of the most important roles in protecting and restoring our creeks, because their actions will have a big influence on whether we can improve the habitat and water quality in our creeks and coastal wetlands.

Whether or not you live right next to a creek, you should be a good watershed steward. Everyone lives in a watershed. A strong understanding of how a creek functions and the practices we should each follow as stream stewards will determine whether we can protect and restore these vital community assets.

The following guidelines suggest what you can do to help in this effort.

Protecting and restoring riparian vegetation

One of the best ways to help is to keep your streambank and riparian corridor naturally vegetated with native plants. A lush growth of native grasses, shrubs, and trees is essential to the health of a stream. The wider this buffer, the better for the creek and the creatures that live in it.

Riparian plants help protect water quality by slowing runoff and filtering out sediment, nutrients and other pollutants before they can enter the water. Roots reinforce the streambank, binding the soil and helping prevent the bank from undercutting and collapsing.

During high stream flows, riparian vegetation slows and dissipates the energy of floodwaters. Overhanging trees and shrubs shade and cool the stream during summer, moderating water temperatures for steelhead and the aquatic creatures they depend on for food. Plant life along the stream provides food and shelter for fish and a variety of other wildlife. And a healthy stand of riparian trees and understory helps maintain the natural beauty of the creek.

The best way to protect or restore a streambank or riparian corridor is with native plants, such as willow, cottonwood and sycamore. Native trees, grasses and shrubs are adapted to our area; they don't need fertilizers and pesticides, and once they become established, they need much less water and maintenance than exotic (nonnative) species. Many native plants not only provide excellent erosion control during high flows, but also recover quickly when floodwaters subside.

Plants that are not native to the area, on the other hand, can seriously degrade the health of a creek. Exotic species often take over and crowd out native plants, reducing the diversity of the native plant community and the animals that depend on it. Invasive nonnatives offer little or no habitat value to wildlife and little, if any, erosion protection. The aggressive growth patterns of an invasive species like Arundo donax (giant reed) can clog an entire stream channel and pose a serious flood and fire risk to the riparian corridor and adjacent homes.

Among the most destructive of invasive species along our creeks are Cape ivy, English ivy, ice plant, periwinkle (Vinca major), fountain grass, giant reed, pampas grass, French broom, myoporum, blue gum eucalyptus, and Peruvian pepper tree. The California Exotic Pest Plant Council publishes a list of invasive species that you can consult.

Invasive species have such an impact on stream health that local government policies regarding new development generally prohibit any use of invasive species near a creek or other Environmentally Sensitive Area, requiring instead the use of appropriate native plants. Even if you don't plan to remodel or build on to your house, you can help restore your reach of the creek by removing invasive species from the riparian zone.

Exotic species often spread so rapidly that the longer you wait to get rid of them, the more entrenched they become. Usually the best method of removing them is by hand. When removing exotic species, take steps to prevent the soil from eroding and replant soon with native vegetation. If you want to restore the riparian corridor on your property, keep landscaped areas from extending to the edge of the bank; instead, create a wide, unlandscaped buffer of native plants between any building and the streambank. Seek professional advice before removing invasive species; you may need a permit to work in the stream corridor.

Protecting instream habitat

Instream conditions are critical to restoring steelhead runs and protecting other aquatic species in our creeks. Fish need cool, clean water and diverse habitat with quiet pools and shallow rocky areas. They also need an adequate food supply of insects and an abundance of cover-undercut banks, rocks, tree roots, overhanging vegetation, and woody debris.

As dying or uprooted trees fall into a stream, their trunks, root wads, and branches slow the flow of water. Large snags create fish habitat by forming pools, eddies, and riffles in the stream. Riffles are shallow gravelly sections of the stream where water runs faster. Many aquatic insects that steelhead eat live in riffles, and steelhead also need riffles to spawn. They use pools for resting, rearing and refuge.

In order to protect this habitat, avoid removing natural debris from the stream channel unless it poses an erosion or flood hazard. Woody debris-such as fallen branches, logs and root wads-provides an important source of cover, food, and shelter for fish and wildlife. A moderate amount of woody debris also provides natural protection for streambanks. In general, don't remove woody debris or other natural material from a stream channel unless it has or will cause a problem. Removing branches, boulders, and dead vegetation from a stream can harm fish and wildlife. Although well intentioned, any changes you make could destroy spawning beds and fish eggs or block fish migration.

Contact the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) or your county flood control or watershed protection offices if you have any questions about the condition of your creek. Remember that you must obtain a 1603 Stream Alteration Agreement from the state Department of Fish and Game before you make any changes to a stream. (Depending on the location and nature of your project, you may also need permits from the city or county planning department, the California Coastal Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and/or the US Army Corps of Engineers.) Constructing or modifying a dam, creating an Arizona crossing, or making any other modification to the creek always requires a permit.

Water diversion

Avoid taking water directly from the stream. Creeks can be heavily impacted by even small diversions during months when streamflow is low. During those months, the life that a creek supports is directly related to the amount of water in the channel.

To divert any water from a creek, you must have a legal right to do so. You must obtain a water rights permit from the appropriate regulatory agency and leave enough water to meet the needs of creeks. Such diversions are legal only if you have a riparian right, an appropriative water right permit, or a small domestic registration (For more information about these permits, contact the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, in Sacramento at 916-657-2170). Water rights in California are complex; but any diversion must constitute a reasonable use and may be subject to conditions that protect public trust values.

In any event, please use water wisely. Impacts to a stream can be reduced by using water efficiently or by relying on other sources of water. Every drop of water you save contributes to maintaining a healthy stream environment.

Minimizing runoff from your property

Another important way to protect the creek is to preserve or restore the natural ability of your property to absorb rainfall.

As discussed earlier, one of the major causes of degraded streams is impervious cover. The roads, parking lots, roofs, and other impervious surfaces that accompany urban development cover soils that used to absorb and treat stormwater. Depriving the land of its natural infiltration capacity degrades our creeks and watersheds in a number of serious ways.

Because rain isn't absorbed into the ground, more rainwater runs off the landscape and does so more quickly, accelerating erosion and damaging the habitat quality of our streams. Increased stormwater runoff means that floods occur more often and are more severe. As the runoff moves over streets and parking lots, it also collects and concentrates nonpoint source pollutants-such as bacteria, hydrocarbons, metals (lead, copper and zinc), chlorides, and nitrates-and washes them directly into the creek. By keeping rainfall from infiltrating into the ground, impervious cover reduces the amount of water available to recharge groundwater and provide base flows to the creek during the dry season. By almost every measure of watershed health, the creeks and estuaries that are surrounded by hardened watersheds are less diverse, less stable and less productive than those in natural watersheds.

The old approach to stormwater management was to get rid of stormwater as quickly as possible. For decades, planners, engineers and builders were trained to expedite runoff through "conveyance systems" that connected parking lots and other impervious areas directly to storm sewers or a creek. Conveyance systems collect and concentrate runoff through networks of gutters, storm drains, and underground pipes.

The new approach to stormwater management encourages runoff to return to the soil, allowing pollutants to settle into the ground where they can be naturally mitigated. By designing for infiltration, this approach reduces the quantity and severity of pollutants reaching our creeks and beaches. It also reduces flooding impacts and makes more water available to both replenish groundwater and maintain stream base flows.

The infiltration approach relies on a series of simple techniques. One strategy is better site design. A development designed specifically for stormwater quality generates less runoff because clustering buildings and preserving green space reduces impervious land coverage. Site design for stormwater management fits buildings into contours, protects trees and native understory plants, and uses a drainage system that slows runoff and provides opportunities for rainfall to filter into the soil.

One of the best strategies involves rethinking road widths and parking lot designs. As one writer has pointed out, as much as 65 percent of the total impervious cover in our landscape is "habitat for cars:" driveways, parking lots, streets and other surfaces that are designed just for the automobile. We can reduce the amount of impervious cover by reducing the size of parking lots and roadways and by using pervious materials to create them. Driveways can be shortened or shared. The size of parking lots can be reduced with grassed or gravel overflow parking areas. And a number of porous paving materials suited for the climate of Southern California-such as open cell pavers, porous concrete, porous asphalt, or stabilized soil mixtures-offer an excellent substitute for conventional asphalt or concrete.

Another important tool is to use drainage as a design element. Directing stormwater into vegetated areas-such as infiltration beds, rain gardens or grassed swales-allows rainfall to percolate into the ground rather than moving directly onto the street or into a storm drain. These natural areas can be planted with wet- and dry-tolerant native species that add to the biodiversity of an urban area. Runoff from rooftops can be directed to yards (instead of storm drains) or into cisterns or rain barrels that allow rainwater to be used later to irrigate lawns, gardens or trees during dry periods.

The most successful stormwater management usually requires a combination of strategies. The new toolbox is sometimes termed "low impact development," and regulatory agencies often refer to the tools as "best management practices" or "BMPs." In our region, county and city agencies are all moving to require the use of these strategies in new development.

Even if you are not considering any major new development, however, you can help protect and restore your property's capacity to infiltrate and treat stormwater. Check rain gutters and other pipes to see where they drain. Make sure they don't carry water directly into the stream. Pipes that direct runoff directly onto a streambank cause erosion. Consider using cisterns, French drains, or other on-site systems to capture, treat or store roof runoff.

When renovating or installing patios, driveways or parking areas, use porous materials, such as sand-laid brick, open-cell pavers, or porous concrete. The cost is competitive with that of conventional concrete, and permeable surfaces are much better for the environment.

Minimizing soil erosion

Soil erosion is a natural process. In fact, one of the functions of a creek is to move sediment.

When it rains, the water in a creek becomes muddy because it is carrying sediment that has accumulated in runoff from the landscape and from the cobbles, gravels, and silt particles in the stream channel. However, too much sediment will fill in the streambed and reduce its ability to carry floodwaters. Excessive sediment can also destroy pools, bury streambed vegetation, eliminate shelter and fish spawning habitat, and diminish food supplies for fish and aquatic insects.

When rainfall meets unprotected soil, erosion almost always results. Soil erosion can occur on streambanks, in fields and pastures, on unpaved roads, driveways, construction sites or any other area where soil is not protected from the erosive forces of rainfall, storm runoff, wind and gravity. Eroded soil almost always ends up in a stream. Much of the water quality degradation that occurs in our creeks results from too much sedimentation.

Preventing erosion problems

You can minimize erosion by following a few simple practices. One is preserving the streamside vegetation on your property. Native riparian plants growing within a stream corridor provide important habitat and help to stabilize banks. When flooding occurs, a well-vegetated stream bank may be your property's best protection.

Invasive species such as Arundo, on the other hand, can actually impede stream flow and contribute to flooding. If you remove non-native plants, remember that clearing can promote erosion unless you replant the streambank or riparian corridor as soon as possible with native vegetation or other suitable plants. Seek professional advice before removing invasive species like Arundo; you may need a permit to work in the stream corridor.

If you undertake any grading, construction or vegetation clearing on your property, protect exposed soil with adequate erosion control practices and materials. Most grading or site construction will require a permit from the City or County, which may have policies or ordinances requiring the landowner to implement particular sediment control measures in such projects. Even if you are simply renovating your yard, remember that any exposed soil erodes easily. Even small projects require good stream stewardship.

Minimize needless clearing and grading, and avoid any clearing adjacent to a creek. If the project requires clearing or grading of a large area, phase construction in stages to limit soil exposure by disturbing only one portion of the site at any one time. Once a section has been cleared, stabilize all exposed soils immediately with a grass or mulch cover or geotextile fabric. Spreading straw and native grass seed can be an inexpensive way to protect soil until more permanent plants are planted or become established.

When working on steep slopes and cuts, use adequate erosion and sediment control techniques. The mitigation practices used on many construction sites are inadequate, often because of inadequate attention to drainage patterns and runoff volumes or because the contractor relied too much on silt fences to retain sediment washing off a slope. Silt fences can retain only small amounts of runoff and sediment. At the toe of a slope, be careful in using silt fencing because high flows, rapid runoff, and sediment movement down-slope can quickly overload the silt fence or knock it down. On steep slopes, consider using perimeter berms and terraces to slow runoff and capture sediment before it reaches the edge of the site. Additional ground covers, such as jute netting or erosion control blankets may be needed to supplement seeding or mulch.

Avoid grading or vegetation clearing during the rainy season. Schedule cleaning
and grubbing or heavy earth moving activities for periods of dry weather. If you must work during the winter, assess your erosion and sediment control practices after each storm. Cover exposed piles of soil, construction materials and waste with plastic sheeting or temporary roofs. Before it rains, sweep and remove materials from surfaces that drain to catch basins, storm drains or creek channels.

Correcting erosion problems

Check for sources of erosion on your property, especially after storms, and correct problems promptly. Bare, vertical and actively eroding streambanks can lead to extensive bank failures and add large volumes of sediment to the stream. A vegetated slope is the best defense against undercutting and slumping banks. If the native riparian vegetation has been depleted or removed, but severe bank erosion has not occurred yet, you may be able to re-establish or add to the remaining vegetation on your own. Find out what types of native vegetation to use on your site and how to plant and care for them.

Remember that creeks are complex systems. Stabilizing banks is seldom a simple matter; it requires knowledge and expertise. The appropriate solution must be tailored to the particular conditions at the site, since actions taken to protect your bank may create unforeseen consequences downstream, resulting in your unintentionally passing erosion problems on to your neighbor.

If you have a serious erosion problem, consult with permitting agencies and a qualified professional in streambank stabilization and repair. Virtually any work along the creek channel requires a permit. You may need a Stream Alteration Agreement from the CDFG, as well as a permit from the City or County, before you do anything to your streambank. You may also need permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service.

Streambank stabilization often involves one or a combination of remedial steps, such as regrading the bank to a more moderate slope and then replanting it with willows and other native plants that can provide good erosion control.

One of the best solutions involves the use of what is called soil bioengineering, in which native plants provide the main structural support. Easily rooting native vegetation cuttings are installed in specific patterns to maximize bank stability. Dead vegetation and rocks may also be used to provide additional support. In one common technique, willow cuttings are driven into the bank to retain the slope.

In another, called brush layering, rows of live branch cuttings are used to break up slope length and provide a stable base for more vegetation. The embedded plants not only reinforce soils, but also act as moisture wicks and barriers to earth movement.

Unlike artificial structures, a slope stabilized with living plants is not only strong initially, but grows even stronger with time as the vegetation becomes established. Even if plants die, roots and surface organic litter continue to play an important role in helping to foster the establishment of other plants.

There are many advantages to choosing soil bioengineering rather than traditional "hard bank" engineering techniques. Soil bioengineering projects cost much less than structural engineering and are usually easier to maintain. Bioengineering not only stabilizes streambanks, but also creates habitat for aquatic organisms and improves water quality. Plants used to stabilize streambanks provide food for aquatic organisms and shade the stream.

In any event, never use tires or concrete rubble to repair erosion problems. These items can be washed away by water and cause further damage; they also contain materials that can be toxic to creek life.

Building away from the creekbank and floodplain

To protect riparian areas, avoid locating structures near the creek or farming right up to the creekbank. Building even small improvements-such as a deck, patio or storage shed-can damage the riparian corridor and expose the structure to flood damage. Streamside development disturbs soils, vegetation and wildlife habitat. It can also decrease the stream's ability to accommodate floods by destabilizing vulnerable slopes. Zoning ordinances of many cities and counties contain setback standards that prohibit structures from being built within a specified distance from a creek. As a result, you should check with the appropriate planning or building department before considering any project.

If you receive a permit to build outside the setback buffer along a creek, you should still take steps to avoid impacting streamside areas during construction. Your permit will likely require you to protect riparian habitat by installing a temporary protective fence along the outer boundary of the buffer and to prevent any grading, vegetation removal or other activities from disturbing the buffer area. If a project damages riparian vegetation or habitat, the City or County with jurisdiction will likely require the landowner to restore the riparian buffer with appropriate native plants.


New education materials are being developed in California to use in schools and in public outreach activities, to educate students about steelhead, their habitat, and emerging concerns.

Steelhead Life Cycle
Learn about where they live, what they eat, and why they are listed as an endangered species.

California Regional Environmental Education Community
The California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) Network is an educational project supported by the California Department of Education, Environmental Education Program,  in collaboration with state, regional and local partners.  The CREEC Network is the best source for Environmental Education resources in California.

Agua Pura
A Multi-Disciplinary Instructional Unit for 6th Graders. A collaboration between Adopt-A-Watershed and The University of California Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development Program.

Central Coast Salmon Enhancement (CCSE) Education Programs
Community education is a significant aspect of CCSE. Each year, presentations and tours are given to schools, service clubs, and special events. Discussions with slides, videos, and classroom demonstrations focus on the ecology and economy of aquatic resources.

Envirothon is sponsored by Resource Conservation Districts, in conjunction with cooperating organizations, agencies, educators and community interest groups. Envirothon is an outdoor natural resource education program for high school students grade 9-12. In the field, students are challenged to work as a team to answer written questions and conduct hands-on projects focusing on environmental issues. Students join together to explore the environment in five disciplines: Forestry, Wildlife, Aquatics, Soils and a current environmental issue.

Steelhead Recovery Movie
Learn more about the issues facing steelhead and salmon and how to protect steelhead in this movie, produced by the Steelhead and Stream Recovery Coalition. (56 Kbs stream, 10:48 minutes, 38.1 MBs)

STEP: Salmon and Trout Education Program
This is where you will have the opportunity to learn about an organization that has developed a real world, hands-on technique in designing a curriculum that uses a thematic approach to the preservation of the remaining strains of anadromous fish, namely salmon and steelhead trout. We attempt to focus student awareness on habitat requirements and water conservation issues that directly affect their natural resources.

Project Learning Tree
PLT has developed new secondary EE materials to give students an awareness of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of decisions connected to community growth and change. Exploring Environmental Issues: Places We Live gets students exploring their own neighborhoods, learning about their community's development through time, and involved in
local community action projects.

Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality Challenge
This is a free, fun, and exciting journey that can turn class work into an adventure! By leading your students toward environmental education in a fresh new way, you can motivate them while teaching concepts from your regions' education Content Standards or Guidelines. Students are encouraged to blend the idea of Environmentality — thinking and acting environmentally at school, at home, and in the community — into their daily lives.

Environmental Education and Training Partnership
Read about schools that have raised test scores of their students by using the environment to help teach content. EETAP is offering the publication Advancing Education Through Environmental Literacy along with the accompanying CD Teaching Standards Naturally at no cost. The publication focuses on how education and the environment can be linked to advance student learning. The CD provides a sampler to 43 free EE activities linked to different grade levels. Booklet and CD produced by EETAP and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).