Skip to main content
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Marine Sanctuaries Home Page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Home Page

Section 6: Public Lands and Rural Roads


About This Document


Water Quality Issues

Management Practices for Agricultural Nonpoint Sources

Section 1: Agricultural Industry Networks

Section 2: Technical Information/Outreach

Section 3: Education and Public Relations

Section 4: Regulatory Coordination/Streamlining

Section 5: Funding Mechanisms/Incentives

Section 6: Public Lands and Rural Roads


Appendix A. Water Quality Protection Program Committee Members

Appendix B. TMDL Schedule for Impaired Waters in Sanctuary Watersheds.

Appendix C. Existing Laws and Programs Related to Agricultural Nonpoint Sources

Appendix D. Definitions of Acronyms

This section addresses management issues for public and private rural lands which may include activities other than farming and ranching. Roadways in rural areas can generate erosion and sedimentation problems if not properly maintained. The intent of the strategies in this section is to improve both public and private planning and maintenance practices for rural roadways, in order to reduce erosion and properly dispose of sediment. In addition, this section includes a strategy to address the management and maintenance of public trust lands, which is often deficient due to a lack of foresight and funding for long-term maintenance/improvement needs.

Strategy 6-1: Provide for maintenance practices to address sedimentation on public roads and waterways.


Ensure that sediment removal operations on public roads in rural areas do not place sediments where they become a sedimentation problem for local landowners or where they can be carried into surface waters or back onto roadways. Adequately provide for ongoing county and state maintenance operations to reduce and manage erosion and subsequent deposition of sediments onto public roadways and waterways resulting from storms and landslides. These operations may include culvert redesign and upgrades to better support natural drainage patterns and to minimize road-related drainage problems. Operations may also include removal of sediment from roads, sediment traps, and drainage channels to ensure that sediments are not left in a condition that results in further movement into surface waters. Include consideration of appropriate changes in policies regarding disposal of these sediments without polluting waterways as part of a maintenance plan for a given watershed, such as development of designated winter spoils storage areas.


Sediment deposition on public roadways occurs from a variety of sources throughout the watersheds to the Sanctuary. State and county agencies, who are responsible for the timely removal of these sediments to keep roads open, may pile them along the side of the road or other places where they can erode in subsequent rains and move into agricultural water control structures, or back onto roads or into surface waters. Mechanisms are not always readily available to deal with sedimentation or erosion once it has occurred. Once sediments have settled on public roadways or waterways, there is not always time for adequate studies or identification of appropriate disposal locations. Public works operations in rural areas should be a coordinated part of erosion control and watershed planning efforts, and should not conflict with conservation management practices implemented by landowners and managers. In the long run, putting public works efforts towards control of sediments before they are deposited on roadways (e.g., sediment traps along roadways adjacent to highly erodible land), and ensuring use of appropriate sediment disposal sites would be cost effective.


Step 1: Provide for erosion control specialists/training in public works departments.

  • Provide training for public works staff, or hire specialists to guide staff, in erosion control and other techniques where such training/knowledge is lacking or insufficient.

Step 2: Establish guidelines and carry out appropriate public road maintenance practices.

  • Reduce discharge of erosive runoff.
  • Prevent erosion of roadside ditches.
  • Provide for improvement or redesign/construction of properly sized drainage culverts, where necessary.
  • Provide for planned capture, removal, and storage of sediment.
  • Consult with potentially affected landowners and managers to prevent conflicts.

Step 3: Establish guidelines and programs for sediment/landslide stockpile areas and for the handling and disposition of sediment accumulations on public and private lands.

  • Identify locations for stockpiling sediment during the winter.
  • Identify locations for long term disposal.
  • Identify landowners willing to accept fill material.
  • Eliminate dumping of sediments over river/creek banks or creation of berms alongside of roads.

Step 4: Provide for installation and maintenance of sediment retention basins to capture eroded sediment before it reaches roadways or water bodies.

  • Install and maintain sediment retention basins as a cost-effective measure to keep sediment from reaching waterways, and to reduce the need for expensive and time-consuming permits for dredging of waterways.


County public works and flood control agencies, California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), county Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, landowners/managers in project areas.

Performance Measures

Overall success will be measured by the reduction in sedimentation coming from public roads, and will be measured in the short-term by the number and quality of practices implemented by public works departments and CalTrans to address sedimentation problems.

Strategy 6-2: Reduce sedimentation from rural unsurfaced roads and from surfaced roads that are not maintained.


Evaluate locations and conditions of rural unsurfaced roads and surfaced roads which are not properly maintained, including old timber roads in unharvested parcels, roads used sporadically for timber harvest or fire control, roads which have been transferred into private residential ownership, and roads on farmlands and rangelands. Identify existing roads which should be either improved or decommissioned, conduct outreach and recruit resources for priority areas. Prevent future problems during transfer of ownership by developing systematic means to work with individual landowners and neighborhood associations who purchase timber parcels or other properties with unsurfaced roads to ensure proper long-term road maintenance. Avoid uncontrolled growth of the road system by carefully evaluating the need for new roads and promoting the use or modification of existing roads wherever possible.


There is an extensive network of rural unsurfaced roads and surfaced roads which are not well-maintained, including old timber roads, in several of the watersheds draining to the Sanctuary, particularly in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties and in the Big Sur region. These include permanent, seasonal, temporary and abandoned roads. Unsurfaced roads can generate scour, act as sediment streams in wet weather, and have been linked to landslides in some locations. These sources are significant contributors to heightened sediment loads in rivers and to sedimentation onto salmon and steelhead spawning habitats. Furthermore, these roads are generally not under the scrutiny of regulatory authorities. For example, the road guidelines in the Forest Practice Rules apply to timber roads in actively harvested parcels, and for up to two winters after harvest ceases. However, maintenance of the roads is often lacking once a timber parcel is no longer harvested for a long period of time, or after the parcels are sold and the roads are taken over by individual landowners, developers or rural homeowners associations. The issue of old roads cuts across many jurisdictions and is exacerbated by the mix of public and private ownership, making it difficult for existing resource management approaches to adequately address the problem. Also, the network of unpaved roads is expanding in some regions, compounding problems created by the network of existing roads and laying the groundwork for future problems as those new roads fall into degraded conditions.


Step 1: Evaluate the road network.

  • Evaluate the system of existing rural roads, including permanent, seasonal, temporary and abandoned roads via existing reports, knowledge and self-evaluations of rural landowners, aerial photos, and mapping (including the mapping effort currently underway by State Mines and others).
  • Identify which existing roads are priorities for improved maintenance and/or structural improvements, recontouring or "fail-safing", which should be confined to limited uses, and which should be decommissioned.
  • Use old road assessment to more thoroughly evaluate potential use or modification of existing roads as an alternative to new roads wherever possible.
  • Promote more comprehensive analysis of cumulative impacts before new roads are approved, including impacts after those roads are no longer used or are used for other purposes.

Step 2: Strengthen outreach and promote road maintenance.

  • Develop comprehensive outreach to rural landowners, inactive timber parcel owners, neighborhood road associations, etc. on road maintenance measures and improvement of existing surfaces in identified priority areas. Include measures to address sedimentation as outlined in strategy 6-1.
  • Utilize existing industry networks to expand outreach, including forestry associations, Farm Bureaus, etc.
  • Continue/expand roads training workshops sponsored by Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) and Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCBs), and incorporate roads training into other existing workshops on related topics.
  • Promote more self-maintaining drainages tailored to the needs of specific sites, such as outsloping, permanent rolling dips, no-maintenance stream-crossings (e.g., rock-lined fords instead of culverts), and/or frequent water bars.
  • Promote the need for winter monitoring and maintenance of roads.
  • Promote need for and methods for decommissioning roads which are either abandoned or should no longer be used, including temporary roads used for timber harvest or fire control.
  • Develop mechanism to encourage the neighborhood road associations to maintain the roads, and standards for allocating cost-sharing among the individual owners.
  • Encourage the incorporation of road associations or neighborhood associations into county service areas which could help administer road maintenance funding.

Step 3: Assist in development of resources for maintenance and decommissioning.

  • Identify potential funding and other resources from a mix of public and private efforts for road improvements or decommissioning.
  • Assist individual landowners and neighborhood associations in priority areas in the identification and development of resources needed.
  • Utilize committee members to help search for additional funding sources or pool resources of multiple parties, including investigation of potential use of the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) salmon/steelhead restoration funding.

Step 4: Prevent future problems during transfer of ownership of old timber roads or other rural unsurfaced roads.

  • Address future erosion problems created by subdivision and sale of timber parcels by developing systematic means to work with individual landowners and developers who take over parcels to properly maintain roads.
  • Work with Board of Realtors on road disclosure statements during transfer of ownership.
  • Develop information packet for new owners outlining the need for closing and maintaining unsurfaced roads, management measures toward that end, and contacts for more information.
  • Identify new road owners and send information packet.


Counties, timber industry, developers, realtors, contractors, California Department of Forestry (CDF), CDFG, NMFS, RWQCBs, CRMPs, WQPP, CalTrans, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), UCCE, RCDs, Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations.

Performance Measures

Overall success will be measured by the amount of reduction in sedimentation coming from rural unsurfaced roads and from surfaced roads that are not maintained. Interim measures of success will include: a completed evaluation of roads and prioritized areas for maintenance; the number of rural road owners contacted and provided information on road maintenance measures, including materials for new road owners; the number of participants in roads training workshops; the development of a system to prevent problems during transfer of ownership; and the extent to which financial resources are obtained and practices are installed to prevent excess sedimentation and improve overall road maintenance.

Strategy 6-3: Improve conservation measures on agency/public trust lands.


Encourage public agencies or other organizations responsible for publicly-owned public trust lands to become models of resource management and watershed stewardship. Provide technical training and volunteer outreach assistance to managing agencies or organizations. Increase community involvement in the decision-making process and the maintenance of public lands. Use watershed stewardship demonstration projects on public lands to foster trust between private landowners and resource management agencies.


Public lands are not always maintained in a way consistent with expectations for private landowners. Funding for land acquisition or easements are often not accompanied by funding for long-term maintenance and improvement of the site. As a result of legislative or economic constraints, many public trust agencies and non-profit conservation or land trust organizations find themselves unable to afford to protect their acquisitions or practice good land stewardship principles. This sets a bad example for the public, diverts attention from the importance of improving conditions on private lands, and serves to increase the lack of trust between these agencies and private property owners.


Step 1: Identify and prioritize agency and publicly-owned public trust lands in need of conservation improvements.

Step 2: Assist public land managers in developing long-term funding and technical training needed to restore and maintain their acquisitions.

Step 3: Assist in the development and implementation of conservation and maintenance plans.

  • Involve the adjacent communities in the decision-making process for publicly-owned lands.
  • Focus first on implementation of resource conservation projects that will provide the most environmental and public education benefit.
  • Assist in the development of volunteer work forces and docent programs.
  • Include signage that calls public attention to stewardship demonstration projects.

Step 4: Develop regional goals and policy guidelines for public property management that can be used to evaluate success.


Coastal Conservancy, local land trusts and nonprofits, BLM, US Forest Service, state and local park districts, counties, California Coastal Commission, WQPP.

Performance Measures

Overall success will be indicated by improved maintenance of agency/public trust lands. Interim goals will be measured by the amount of participation on the part of public land managers in technical training, by the increase in funding made available for public land maintenance to complement land acquisition funding, and by the number of conservation/maintenance plans developed and implemented for publicly-owned properties.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

Take Our Survey | Privacy Statement | Site Disclaimer
National Marine Sanctuaries | National Ocean Service | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration |