Morro Bay Estuary group has a new director

From her office in Marina Square on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero, Adrienne Harris has only to look out the window to see why she comes to work.

Harris is the new director of the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, a nonprofit group that coordinates conservation efforts in the Morro Bay watershed, a 75-square-mile swath of land in the heart of San Luis Obispo County.

She has been on the job since November and is working to familiarize herself with the myriad issues facing the watershed, and the numerous landowners, government agencies and nonprofits who are active in it.

“This is an opportunity for me to work on the community level, close to the resource we are trying to protect, which is the bay,” she said.

For the 61⁄2 years before taking the job in Morro Bay, Harris worked in Washington, D.C., as a policy analyst for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There, she worked with Congress on non-regulatory marine conservation issues, which she described as the agency’s “feel-good carrot programs, rather than its stick programs.”

“It was a great opportunity to learn how Washington works,” she added.

One of Harris’ first challenges will be updating the estuary program’s management plan, which is a decade old. The management plan outlines how the program will address the main challenges facing the watershed and estuary.

These challenges are sedimentation caused by erosion, habitat loss and pollution from agricultural runoff and urban sources. The updated plan will also deal with two newer threats — global climate change and invasive species, she said.

The Morro Bay program is one of only 28 such federally designated estuary programs in the nation. With eight employees, it is one of the smallest programs, but the resources it protects are considered to be some of the healthiest.

Harris succeeds Dan Berman, who left in March to oversee a fisheries watershed management program in Northern California.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.