Frequently Asked Questions


Most frequently asked questions and answers

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 the Morro Bay National Estuary Program are based on local input and support local priorities.

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.

Since 2008, the 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. 

Morro Bay National Estuary Program relies on diverse funding sources, as well as more than 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. We are grateful for donations of any size and can accept them online and by cash or check.

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.

Fishing is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. To fish or hunt in Morro Bay, a person must obtain the proper license and follow the guidelines from the State of California.

Shellfish farming is regulated by a variety of state agencies. State agencies that oversee various aspects of shellfish farming include the California Coastal CommissionDepartment of Public HealthDepartment of Fish and Wildlife, and State Lands Commission.

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.

Certain farming and grazing activities tend to accelerate the 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. The 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 about 65,000 feet of fencing to protect the creek from being damaged by cattle.

Freshwater is critical to the health of the estuary. Estuarine habitats such as Morro Bay require a regular source of freshwater to function properly and to support wildlife. Steelhead trout, a native fish that is listed as threatened, have historically been found in the creeks that flow into Morro Bay. Steelhead require adequate amounts of freshwater flowing down the creeks in order to find food, travel downstream and upstream, and spawn successfully. In order to help keep freshwater in our creeks, 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.

When rain washes over the landscape, it can carry loose soil, oil, pesticides, 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.

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 waters require special, intervention in order 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.

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) delisting 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.