Morro Bay estuary plan updated

The Morro Bay National Estuary Program has updated the plan outlining how the many resources in the Morro Bay watershed will be managed for at least the next five years.

Called the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, the 108-page document describes the challenges facing the 75-square-mile watershed that drains into Morro Bay as well as action plans to address them.

Topping the list of ongoing issues are sedimentation of the bay and an influx of water pollutants including bacteria, nutrients and toxic substances.

The management plan was released at the beginning of the month and is still in its draft form. The public is invited to attend an informational meeting about the plan Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Morro Bay Community Center. Anyone can comment on the plan until April 13.

This is the first time the management plan has been updated since the original plan was issued in 2001. Morro Bay was added to the National Estuary Program in 1995 and is one of 28 watersheds to be included in the system.

The challenges facing the watershed in 1995 remain, and several new ones have been added, said Lexie Bell, the program’s assistant director.

Over the past decade, the group has instituted many projects to reduce erosion and polluted runoff, including land conservation and restoration of the two main creeks in the watershed, Chorro and Los Osos creeks.

One of the most important emerging issues is climate change. Rising sea levels and changes in storm patterns are two effects of climate change that will affect the estuary.

“For a restoration project, for example, we have to think about what it will look like 50 years from now,” Bell said.

Another new emphasis in the plan is making sure uses of the estuary are environmentally balanced. This means that the ecosystem services of the estuary, such as wildlife habitat, are balanced with the human uses, such as recreation.

Estuary program staff hopes to do another, less in-depth update of the management plan in five years.

“We hope it will be a simpler process if it is done every five years,” Bell said.

The draft management plan can be found at the estuary program’s website at www.mbnep.org. Comments can be emailed to lbell@mbnep.org.