A group of approximately 50 conservationists, environmentalists, state and federal agency personnel, water and soil specialists, ranchers, farmers and others met April 19 at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Hollister under the banner of the Pajaro Compass, a collaborative, visionary process that includes documents and maps that reflect the values and contributions of the participants.

The meeting concerned the Pajaro River watershed, a 1,300-square-mile area that includes portions of the Santa Cruz, Gabilan and Diablo mountain ranges, along with river tributaries and creeks that ultimately drain into Monterey Bay. It straddles Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties. Within its boundaries are nearly 140,000 people, along with ranches, farms, a national park and numerous state parks.

Those who are part of the Pajaro Compass Network provide ongoing support for organizations to voluntarily accomplish projects that advance one or more of conservation goals. Its website provides resources for landowners/managers, farmers/ranchers, conservation planners/scientists/practitioners.

The meeting and technical presentation on restoration work of the Salinas River was led by Abby Hart, agriculture project director at the National Conservancy, Abby Taylor-Silva, with the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and Paul Robins, executive director of the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County.

The group’s stated long-term goals are to:

  • support the long-term health of the Pajaro River watershed
  • deepen the network’s ability, as a natural resource stewards and partners, to collaborate on smarter projects
  • communicate to decision-makers, and to the network’s community, about the many values of the Pajaro River watershed

During the meeting, the group’s stated intent was to build on connections between those attending; discover how diverse partners have worked together on the Salinas River flood risk reduction project; learn about Proposition 1 funding opportunities; and become more familiar with using the Pajaro Compass map data and consider developing new mapping tools.

Robins told the audience that he was excited about being a part of the Salinas River flood risk reduction project, as it represents the advances since the early 2000s, when little work was possible in the Salinas River.

“The communities and agencies were pretty much at loggerheads and this offers a unique combination of organizations and willingness to not have a ‘no-project’ option,” he said. “This meant everybody stayed at the table and came up with a very creative solution.”

Taylor-Silva told the group that after the 1995 floods, a number of people wanted to begin managing the Salinas River. She said people have been working on about 50 percent of the 100-mile-long river after getting permits through the Monterey County Water Resource Agency. Individual landowners held 1600 permits. During that time, the river became listed for steelhead trout and by 2008, those permits were not allowed to be renewed, so the water district took the lead in obtaining and maintaining them.

“We were being told that we needed to look at a new system,” she said, “and for six or seven years we were at odds about what we could do. A lot of it had to do with understanding how laws or policies are changing and how we might be able to work with them.”

Robins said there are two simultaneous programs ongoing with the Salinas River. One involves funding from the agriculture commission for an invasive weed eradication program that focuses on restoration above ground, as the second option concentrates on stream bed maintenance. Taylor-Silva said that in 2013, the Nature Conservancy wondered if there might be new options to consider. It was determined that the Gonzales area was suitable for a pilot program because a number of landowners and operators said they would try anything to be able to work in the river.

Hart said it was important to build relationships among the various organizations and landowners and to develop the science together in a neutral way to come up with a design solution for the river.

“The approach we came up with is something we all own. It’s not something that any one of our organizations feel they own,” she said.

Taylor-Silva said it was important that the landowners also took ownership of the design.

“They had peers who were questioning them and they said they were going to do this,” she said, adding it took a combination of the Nature Conservancy, RCD and landowners to make the program a success.

The technical presentation concentrated on the group’s modeling approach to better understand the issues within the watershed and the benefits to landowners, habitat protection and individual species could be in flood risk reduction.

For additional volunteer information on Pajaro Compass, visit its website.

John Chadwell worked as a feature, news and investigative reporter for BenitoLink on a freelance basis for seven years, leaving the role in Sept. 2023. Chadwell first entered the U.S. Navy right out of...