Q.What is an estuary?
A. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers, streams, or groundwater meets and mixes with salt water from the sea. Estuarine environments are among the most productive on earth, creating more living matter each year than comparably sized areas of forest, grassland, or agricultural land.
Q. What is a watershed?
A. A watershed is the area of land that drains rainfall and groundwater into the estuary (or ocean) through a series of creeks and rivers, delivering either clean water or land-based pollution to our waterways.
Q. Are you a government agency?
A. No, the Estuary Program is a local, non-profit organization, not a government agency, and thus has no regulatory authority. Instead, the program makes progress by fostering collaboration at a watershed-level. This approach has proved to be both efficient and effective.
Q. Where is the Estuary?
A. Morro Bay, a small estuary of 2300 acres, is fed by Chorro and Los Osos Creeks and is protected from the Pacific Ocean by a lengthy sand spit.
Q. What is the National Estuary Program?
A. The National Estuary Program (NEP) is a network of 28 community-based programs around the country that safeguards the health of important coastal ecosystems. The NEP is codified in the federal Clean Water Act, but each individual program supports local solutions to local conservation issues. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides financial and technical assistance to each NEP.
Q. Why is Morro Bay’s Estuary a National Estuary?
A. The Morro Bay National Estuary Program was designated a state estuary in 1994 and an “estuary of national significance” in 1995 as a result of a tireless community-based effort to protect this precious resource. An “estuary of national significance” is an estuary whose estuarine waters, natural ecosystems, and economic activities were deemed by Congress to be critical to the environmental health and economic well-being of the nation.
Q. Does the NEP oversee regulations and rules within the Estuary?
A. No, the Estuary Program is non-governmental and non-regulatory. The Estuary Program works closely with local, state and federal partners to further our vision of a healthy estuary with clean water that supports both wildlife and human uses for future generations.
Q. Are there any endangered or threatened species in Morro Bay?
A. Morro Bay estuary is home to more than a dozen threatened or endangered species.
Q. What is eelgrass?
A. Eelgrass is a flowering plant that grows underwater in dense meadows.
Q. Which activities can you do in a national estuary?
A. Estuaries are places people can participate in a wide variety of recreational and commercial activities, such as kayaking, bird/wildlife watching, hiking, boating and guided boat tours, fishing, paddling, biking, camping, shopping, dining, picnicking, and enjoying arts and entertainment.
Q. How is Morro Bay National Estuary Program managed?
A. Morro Bay National Estuary Program is managed by a small, full-time staff with oversight from a network of committees, whose members are composed of diverse stakeholders including citizens, local business leaders, environmental organizations, and local, state, and Federal agencies. The make-up of the committees ensures that the activities conducted by Morro Bay National Estuary Program are based on local input and support local priorities.
Q. Which government agencies have regulatory authority over water quality in the Morro Bay watershed?
A. The Central Coastal Regional Water Quality Control Board is the primary state agency with regulatory authority over water quality in Morro Bay. The County of San Luis Obispo and City of Morro Bay also regulate water quality that compliments state regulatory authority.
Q. How is Morro Bay National Estuary Program funded?
A. Morro Bay National Estuary Program receives an annual grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), grants from other government and private foundations, and private donations. The combination of the EPA grant and other matching funds helps the Estuary Program achieve important conservation, restoration, and education goals in the Morro Bay watershed.
Q. Does Morro Bay National Estuary Program receive additional funding beyond its EPA grant?
A. Since 2008, Morro Bay National Estuary Program leveraged $2.9 million in EPA grant funding into $7.4 million of additional funding – a ratio of 2.5 to 1. These funds come from a variety of private and public sources.
Q. How can the public help support Morro Bay National Estuary Program?
A. Morro Bay National Estuary Program relies on diverse funding sources, as well as 100+ volunteers and businesses that donate their time and services. Without these cash and in-kind donations, the Estuary Program would not be able to achieve many of its core functions.
Q. How do I get involved in volunteering?
A. Visit our Volunteer Page with details on upcoming events and ongoing programs with which you can become involved by filling out the Volunteer Interest Form!
Q. Are you hiring?
A. Visit our Job Openings Page for updates.
Q. Who regulates fishing in Morro Bay?
A. Fishing is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. To fish recreationally in Morro Bay, a person must obtain the proper license and follow the guidelines from the State of California.
Q. Who regulates shellfish farming in Morro Bay?
A. Shellfish farming is regulated by a variety of state agencies. State agencies that oversee various aspects of shellfish farming include the California Coastal Commission, Department of Public Health, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and State Lands Commission.
Q. Are marine protected areas within Morro Bay and what activities are restricted?
A. The entire bay has been designated as a State Marine Recreational Management Area where all commercial fishing activities are prohibited with the exception of shellfish farming in designated areas. In addition, there is a State Marine Reserve where all fishing and taking of any other marine life is prohibited.
Q. What is Morro Bay National Estuary Program doing to address impacts from agricultural runoff?
A. Certain farming and grazing activities tend to accelerate erosion of sediment into Morro Bay. Runoff from agricultural fields and grazing lands can also wash fertilizers and bacteria into the creeks that flow into Morro Bay. Morro Bay National Estuary Program helps local landowners to implement best management practices through technical and financial assistance. For example, the Estuary Program provided assistance to local ranchers to install ~65,000 feet of fencing to protect the creek from being damaged by cattle.
Q. What is Morro Bay National Estuary Program doing with regard to water conservation?
A. Freshwater is critical to the health of the estuary. Estuarine habitats such as Morro Bay require regular inflows of freshwater to function properly. The Morro Bay watershed is important steelhead trout habitat and adequate creek flow is important to the recovery of the fish in our area. The Estuary Program supports efforts that can conserve water or help recharge water supplies. Morro Bay National Estuary Program works with its partners to adopt best management practices to reduce water needs and replenish water sources in the urban and agricultural landscape. The Estuary Program also educates visitors and residents about how they can conserve water locally.
Q. Where does pollution come from in the Morro Bay watershed?
A. Each rainstorm brings a wash of water over the landscape that can carry loose soil, oil, pesticides and herbicides, fertilizer, and bacteria into the creeks and bay. Sewage spills, faulty septic systems, and illegal waste discharges from boats also release nutrients and pathogens into Morro Bay through groundwater and runoff.
Q. What does it mean to have a water body listed as “impaired” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?
A. The goal of the Clean Water Act is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Under the Clean Water Act [section 303(d)], the State of California is required to develop lists of impaired waters. These are waters for which technology-based regulations and other required controls are not stringent enough to meet the water quality standards set by states. The law requires that states establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these waters. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.
Q. Are Morro Bay and its tributaries currently listed as “impaired?”
A. Yes, Morro Bay is listed as impaired for pathogens, sedimentation, and dissolved oxygen. In the Morro Bay watershed, Chorro Creek is listed for E. coli, fecal coliform, nutrients, and sedimentation. Los Osos Creek is listed for fecal coliform, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, nitrate, and sedimentation. The 303(d) de-listing of Chorro Creek for dissolved oxygen was informed in part by monitoring efforts of Morro Bay National Estuary Program, and was supported by restoration projects and land acquisitions along the creek.