Major watersheds in Santa Cruz County include the San Lorenzo River, Scott Creek, Soquel and Aptos creeks, Waddell, and the Corralitos and Salsipuedes subbasins of the Pajaro River. Smaller watersheds in the County include Arana Gulch, Rodeo Gulch, and the North Coast streams of San Vicente, Liddell, Laguna, Davenport Creek, Majors Creek, San Andreas, Swanton Bluffs, and Baldwin and Wilder creeks. Associated waterways and land uses within Santa Cruz County watersheds are described below (organized from north to south). Click to view the Watershed Map.
Año Nuevo Creek
The Año Nuevo watershed is in the northwestern portion of the County along the border of San Mateo County. The watershed covers an area of approximately 10 square miles. The headwaters of this watershed begin in Santa Cruz County but empty into the Bay along the San Mateo coastline. The portion of this watershed in Santa Cruz County includes the headwaters of Whitehouse Creek, Cascade Creek, Elliot Creek, Wilson Creek, Green Oaks Creek, Año Nuevo Creek, Finney Creek, and Willows Gulch. Big Basin Redwood State Park is present in the eastern portion of the watershed. Other land uses in the watershed include residential and agricultural land use.
The Waddell Creek watershed drains an area of approximately 27 square miles and is comprised by Last Chance Creek, the two major tributaries of Waddell Creek, East Waddell and West Waddell, and numerous unnamed tributaries. East Waddell Creek is fed by Blooms Creek, Sempervirens Creek, Maddocks Creek, Rogers Creek, Opal Creek, and Union Creek. West Waddell is fed by Henry Creek and Berry Creek. Big Basin State Park constitutes most of the land cover in the watershed with small pockets of rural residential and agricultural use near the coast.
Swanton Bluffs is a small watershed adjacent to the Scotts Creek and Waddell Creek watersheds. The watershed is approximately five square miles and is comprised of two unnamed streams. Land use is predominantly agriculture with small strips of parkland along the coast as well as some residential areas.
Scott Creek encompasses a 39 square mile watershed in northern Santa Cruz County. Big Creek and Little Creek are the major tributaries to Scott Creek. Smaller tributaries include Queseria Creek, Berry Creek, Boyer Creek, Deadman Gulch, Winter Creek, Mill Creek, Archibald Creek, and numerous unnamed streams and creeks. Principal land uses in the watershed include agriculture and timber, industrial use (particularly in the vicinity of lands held by Lockheed-Martin), residential use, and recreation. The stream provides salmonid habitat for both spawning and rearing anadromous salmonids. Coho salmon spawn naturally in Scott Creek, making it the only major stream south of San Francisco where this occurs. Serious aggradation has occurred in the lower reaches of Scott Creek resulting in accelerated sedimentation that threatens to impair critical spawning habitat of the coho and steelhead. Invasive and exotic plant species such as French broom (Genista monspessulana), Cape ivy (Senecio mikanioides) and other nonnative invasive species are also a problem and are present throughout the riparian corridors of the watershed.
Davenport watershed is located between Scotts Creek and San Vicente and drains an area of approximately 8 square miles, Molino Creek and several unnamed creeks comprise this watershed. Major land uses in this area include agriculture and mountain residential commercial and residential uses in the town of Davenport.
San Vicente Creek
The San Vicente watershed drains an area of approximately 14 square miles and is comprised of San Vicente Creek fed by Mill Creek and several unnamed tributaries. Land use in the watershed is predominantly residential with 2 quarries located on Mill Creek and on one of the unnamed tributaries to San Vicente Creek. There is also a small pocket of agricultural land along the coast. Anadromy is thought to be limited to about 4 miles due to past quarry activities.
The Liddell Creek watershed drains and area of approximately 8 square miles and is comprised of Liddell Creek, West Liddell Creek, and Yellow Bank Creek. Land use in the watershed is predominantly agriculture (about 60%) with the remainder comprised of mountainous residential areas.
The Laguna Creek watershed drains an area of approximately 8 square miles and is comprised of Laguna Creek, Reggiardo Creek, and several unnamed streams. Approximately half of the land use in the watershed is agriculture with the remaining area comprised of residential and resource conservation uses.
Majors watershed is located between the Laguna and Baldwin Wilder watersheds. It drains an area of approximately 5 square miles and is comprised of Majors Creek and three unnamed tributaries. Land use is predominantly parkland with the remainder comprised by rural residential and a small area of agricultural production.
The Baldwin Wilder watershed is located just south of and adjacent to Majors watershed and the San Lorenzo River watershed. It drains an area of approximately 20 square miles and is comprised of Baldwin Creek, Lombardi Gulch, Sandy Flat Gulch, Old Dairy Gulch, Wilder Creek (Peasley Gulch, Adams Creek, and Cave Gulch), and Moore Creek. The majority of the watershed is comprised of Wilder Ranch State Park with some agriculture along the coast and a quarry along Old Dairy Gulch.
San Lorenzo River
The San Lorenzo River is a 138 square mile watershed located in northern Santa Cruz County. It is the largest watershed lying completely within Santa Cruz County. Originating in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the watershed consists of a 25-mile long main stem and 9 principal tributaries that include the following (with associated smaller waterways shown in parentheses: Branciforte (Glen Canyon Creek, Redwood Creek, Granite Creek, Crystal Creek, Tie Gulch, and Blackburn Gulch), Carbonera (Camp Evans Creek and several unnamed streams), Zayante (Lompico Creek, Mill Creek, and Mountain Charlie Gulch), Bean, Fall, Newell (Loch Lomond Reservoir), Bear (Hopkins Gulch, whalebone Gulch, Deer Creek, Connely Gulch, and Shear Creek), Boulder (Foreman Creek, Silver Creek, Pea Vine Creek, Bracken Brae Creek, Jamison Creek, and Hare Creek), and Kings Creeks (Logan's Creek). Smaller creeks and waterways include Powder Mill Creek, Eagle Creek, Gold Gulch, Shingle Mill Creek, Bull Creek, Bennett Creek (Fall Creek and South Fall Creek), Mason Creek, Love Creek (Smith Creek and Fritch Creek), Hubbard Gulch, Alba Creek, Clear Creek, Malosky Creek, Spring Creek Gulch, Two Bar Creek, Spring Creek, and numerous unnamed streams and creeks. The watershed includes the cities and communities of Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Felton, Ben Lomond, and Boulder Creek. Much of the watershed is forested except for these pockets of urban areas. The San Lorenzo River is listed on the 2002 Clean Water Act Section 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Segments for sediment, pathogens, and nutrients. A sediment Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the San Lorenzo River (and associated tributaries Carbonera Creek, Lompico Creek, and Shingle Mill Creek) has been adopted by the Regional Board.
The Arana Gulch-Rodeo watershed drains a 3.5 square-mile area at the outer (eastern) edges of the City of Santa Cruz. Major waterways and water bodies in this watershed include Arana Gulch, Leona Creek, Schwann Lake, Rodeo Creek Gulch, and several unnamed waterways. Principal land uses in the watershed are urban, primarily residential, commercial, and light industrial, plus institutional areas such as schools, hospitals, and cemeteries. Habitat types present in the watershed include wetlands and freshwater marsh, streambank vegetation, mixed evergreen/mixed broadleaf forest, and a few patchy areas of chaparral habitat. High sediment loads threaten the quality of habitat for the steelhead and other aquatic species in Arana Gulch. Reducing the delivery of sand and sediments to Arana Gulch, its tributaries, and the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor and providing passage for migrating adult steelhead to the eastern and central branches of Arana Gulch are identified as principal goals for the Arana Gulch watershed.
Located between the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, the Soquel Creek watershed drains an area of 42 square miles. Major tributaries include the West Branch (Burns, Laurel, Hester Creek, Amaya Creek, Fern Gulch, Ashbury Gulch, Hinkley Creek, and numerous unnamed waterways) and the Main Branch (fed by Moore 's Gulch, Grover Gulch, Love Creek and Bate's Creek). Smaller tributaries include Noble Gulch, Porter Gulch, Tannery Gulch and Borregas Creek. Principal land use in the watershed includes urban development, rural residential development, agriculture, parks and recreation, and mining and timber harvesting. The unincorporated town of Soquel and the City of Capitola are both located in the lower reaches of the watershed. Sedimentation and impairment of important fish habitat have been identified as principal resource concerns in this watershed. Soquel Lagoon is listed on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Segments for nutrients, pathogens, and sedimentation/siltation.
The Aptos Creek watershed drains an area of approximately 25 square miles in southern Santa Cruz County. Aptos Creek and Valencia Creek are the principal tributaries in the watershed. Aptos Creek converges with Valencia Creek approximately 1 mile inland of the Bay. Bridge Creek and Mangels Gulch empty into the Aptos Creek portion of the watershed and Trout Gulch empties into Valencia Creek. Land use in this watershed is comprised of forested lands, state parks and some rural residential areas. More than half of the Aptos Creek portion of the watershed is forested, with most of the creek running through the southern portion of the Nisene Marks State Park. Land use in the Valencia Creek portion of the watershed is primarily rural residential and urban development. There are historical and modern-day logging sites in both sub-watersheds. The Aptos Creek watershed provides important habitat to coho and steelhead. Excessive sedimentation, low stream flow, fish barriers, loss of channel complexity, and poor water quality in the coastal lagoon are some principal resource concerns associated with the Aptos Creek watershed.
The Pajaro River Watershed drains an area of approximately 1,300 square miles of land in Central California in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Monterey Counties. Approximately fifteen percent, or 200 square miles, of the Pajaro River Basin lies within Santa Cruz County. The Pajaro River watershed is comprised of the Watsonville Slough System (fed by Gallighan Slough, Harkins Slough, and Struve Slough), Corralitos Creek (fed by Rider Creek, Eureka Gulch, Diablo Gulch, Redwood Creek, Browns Creek, and Ramsey Creek), and Salsipuedes Creek (fed by College Creek, Green Valley Creek, Hughes Creek, Pinto Lake, Casserly Creek, and Gaffey Creek). Predominant land use practices in the Lower Pajaro and its tributaries include irrigated croplands, rangelands, timberlands, urbanization, and rural residential development. The watershed is home to several special status species including the tidewater goby, steelhead trout, Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, and the California red-legged frog. The Pajaro River and several tributary streams are water quality impaired due to sedimentation.
Watsonville Slough drains14 square miles from the hills of southern Santa Cruz County into the Pajaro River and Monterey Bay. The Watsonville Slough system is comprised of six individual sloughs including Watsonville Slough, Harkins Slough, Gallighan Slough, Hanson Slough, the main branch of the Struve Slough, and the western branch of Struve Slough. The Sloughs represent significant water supply resources, part of which are being used to offset salt-contaminated coastal wells in the region. Nutrient loading, oftentimes exacerbated by the absence of marsh vegetation, coupled with poor water circulation has resulted in eutrophic conditions in many areas of the Sloughs. Watsonville Slough is listed on the 2002 Clean Water Act Section 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Segments for pathogens, pesticides, and sedimentation/siltation (Swanson Hydrology and Geomorphology 2003).;
The San Andreas watershed is bordered on the north and east by the Pajaro River watershed and to the west by the Aptos Creek watershed. San Andreas drains an area of approximately 15 square miles and is comprised of Bush Gulch and two unnamed streams. Land use is predominantly agriculture with some rural and urban residential areas.