Urban stormwater management in the City of Santa Cruz

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Aerial view of Santa Cruz, California


The City of Santa Cruz created a Storm Water Management Program (SWMP) in 2009 and revised it in 2010. The purpose of SWMP is to manage and reduce the amount of pollutants discharged in urban runoff to reduce the level of contaminants entering the Monterey Bay and waters within the San Lorenzo River watershed[1].

Regulatory Background

The City of Santa Cruz is required to manage stormwater and the discharge of pollutants under several federal, state and local laws and regulatory agencies. See Urban stormwater regulations applicable to central coast region for information regarding stormwater management and legislation for the region. Additional agencies responsible for water quality within Santa Cruz include: County of Santa Cruz, California Department of Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Coastal Commission, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency [1].


The City of Santa Cruz developed SWMP in compliance with the Phase II National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is the the state agency that administers the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program under the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA).

In addition, Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations apply to the population of steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss present in the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz [2]. The ESA prohibits the impairment of habitats that contain endangered or threatened species [3].


The City of Santa Cruz currently operates under the State of California's General Permit for Storm Water Discharges from Small Municipal Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s). The city is required to develop and implement a Storm Water Management Plan (SWMP), and submit annual reports to the Central Coast Water Quality Control Board that summarize the city's SWMP implementation measures [4]. See Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CCRWQCB) pages for information regarding stormwater management and legislation for this part of the state.


Santa Cruz County Code Chapter 7.79 controls runoff and pollution to, "protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public by protecting the surface and groundwater quality, groundwater recharge, beneficial uses, marine habitats, watershed health, and ecosystems of the receiving waters of the County, including the Monterey Bay, from discharge of pollutants and the adverse effects of hydromodification[5]."

Potentially Impacted Water

Stormwater discharge is regulated to protect two receiving water bodies in the City of Santa Cruz:

Sources of Urban Runoff Pollution

The significant sources of urban runoff pollution identified by the City are:

  • Industrial Facilities: Industrial chemical processes; chemical and waste storage; fleet maintenance and vehicle washing; and landscaping.
  • Commercial businesses including food and vehicle service facilities: vehicle and equipment maintenance; food processing; vehicle washing; landscaping; and chemical and waste storage.
  • Residential dwellings: vehicle washing; home vehicle repair; home painting and construction projects; chemical and waste storage; pet waste; and landscaping.
  • Construction and remodeling projects: grading; vegetation removal; concrete washout; vehicle and equipment fluids; landscaping; and material and waste storage.
  • Municipal sewer system and private sewer laterals: exfiltration from leaking, cracked, and debilitated pipelines; and overflows from blocked pipelines.

Stormwater Management Plan

The current, 2010 Revised Plan (as of Mar. 2014) created a stormwater management utility, best management practices and a UCSC stormwater management plan.

Additionally, the City of Santa Cruz must submit yearly annual reports:

Stormwater Management Utility

The Stormwater Management Utility created by the city establishes utility fees to pay for flood control projects and stormwater pollution prevention. Federal, state and city governments share the cost of implementing the San Lorenzo River Flood Control and Restoration Improvement Project, estimated to cost over $66 million. Approximately $4.4 million of the total costs will be covered by the city of Santa Cruz. Costs include the reconstruction of four bridges, raising levees, river landscaping, and the Laurel Street Extension/Third Avenue Riverbank Stabilization Project. Estimated costs for stormwater pollution abatement are over $650,000 per year.[6] A Stormwater Ordinance was created in order to establish standards and programs that would improve stormwater system maintenance, monitor pollutants in stormwater, and provide information and educational activities for the community.

Management Strategies

Best management practices for specific areas such as retail, industrial, and construction activities are being developed and implemented. These activities support the goal of the City to minimize the pollutants from the City storm drain system entering Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Stormwater utility fees and Clean River, Beaches and Ocean tax funds will pay for these activities.

The following lists Santa Cruz's Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater runoff, as listed by the Santa Cruz SWMP of 2009 [1].

University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Stormwater Management Plan

The UCSC Stormwater Management Plan covers UC Santa Cruz’s main campus and its off-site facilities located in urban areas of Santa Cruz.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 City of Santa Cruz Storm Water Management Plan 2009
  2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Species Profile
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Endangered Species Program
  4. Storm Water Annual Report 2012
  5. [1]
  6. Stormwater Management Utility



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