The San Lorenzo: To Paddle or Not to Paddle?

Photo courtesy of our friends over at Santa Cruz Hilltromper - a local outdoor recreation website.

Photo courtesy of our friends over at Santa Cruz Hilltromper – a local outdoor recreation website.

The San Lorenzo River is about to become the subject of a lot more human activity. The river, which runs through the center of Santa Cruz proper and serves as the City’s main water supply, may be open for more human recreational activities. Specifically, the City Council is set to weigh in on the potential for a pilot paddling program, which would allow for canoes, kayaks, and even stand up paddle boarders to use the river up to two days a week. The program would last for a month, and the river would be open within the city limits on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

People have not been allowed to paddle on the San Lorenzo previously because of concerns for the natural environment. In particular, the river is home to a wide variety of bird species, including Red Winged Blackbirds, Great Egrets, and the majestic Great Blue Heron. The river is also home to two endangered species of fish, the Coho Salmon and Steelhead trout, though you would be hard pressed to find them nowadays. However, a group of local nonprofits referring to themselves as the San Lorenzo River Alliance have been pushing the city to reevaluate this restriction, mainly as a way to promote more understanding and appreciation of the river, but also to reinvigorate an under utilized public space.

There were also concerns about the water quality, and how that might impact humans should they come into prolonged contact with the water. As it turns out, in a report released last week by the Coastal Watershed Council, those same birds mentioned above were found to be the primary contributors to the poor water quality in the river, contributing substantial amounts of fecal matter (poop) to the water. Perhaps coincidentally (or not), Cowell Beach was once again labelled one of the most polluted beaches in the State by the Heal the Bay Organization, though no direct link between the bird poop and beach pollution has been established.

The current debate over the San Lorenzo has been going on since 2012 when the City made improving the levee (officially a city park) one of its priorities. It has since been renamed the San Lorenzo Riverwalk, and has been host to a number of community events, including most recently the Ebb and Flow Festival put on by the Santa Cruz County Arts Council. However, many local birders expressed concern over having humans actually paddling on the river, worrying that it could disturb their nesting habitat. So the city compromised and created the River Paddling Advisory Group, which is made up of self-proclaimed river and paddling enthusiasts, and bird watchers, as well as a professional biologist. Together this group came up with the proposed pilot project idea, which will also include regular biological testing to document the effects on the local bird population.

With all of these issues in mind, do you support a pilot paddling project on the San Lorenzo River? Vote and comment below.

Establish Pilot Program for Paddling on San Lorenzo River
This initiative would direct the Santa Cruz City Council to approve a pilot program that allows for paddling on the San Lorenzo River within the city limits. This program is based upon the recommendation of the Council appointed “River Paddling Advisory Group”, which consists of 6 local paddling and birding enthusiasts, and biologists. The pilot program would consist of a 4 week period whereby paddling would be allowed on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and only when local birds are not nesting. The city will conduct biological monitoring to assess the impact of the program on local wildlife.


1 Comment

  1. The River Paddling Advisory Group is not a compromise. The Group was formed to take the heat off the City Council in making this decision. With three members in favor of paddling, including one member who is contracted by the City for biological monitoring, and two members opposed to paddling, the outcome was foregone.

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