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To provide Cal Poly students, faculty, staff and the public with a unique interdisciplinary environment in which to foster the Learn by Doing philosophy by providing educational experiences on a working ranch, supporting diversified agriculture and forest resources while maintaining the integrity of ranch operations.

  —Our Mission

Watershed Projects

Projects and Research

Spatial and Temporal Variance of Macroinvertebrate Community Structure within the Little Creek Sub-Watershed.

The effectiveness of Best Management Practices (BMP's) in coastal redwood forests can be investigated through freshwater community responses to direct and indirect changes in localized stream quality. This project aims to investigate the relationships between community structuring (distribution, abundance, richness, and biomass) and physical parameters (canopy density, substrate, water quality, and standing coarse particulate organic matter) within the Little Creek Watershed. Results from this study will be fundamental in establishing a record of baseline conditions for future analysis of land management impacts on stream quality and ecosystem function within Little Creek. 

Contact: John Hardy

Photo used with permission from Teddy Miller, Davenport, CA

Using Life Cycle Assessment and Physical Habitat Monitoring to Evaluate a Stream Restoration Project in Lower Scotts Creek.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an environmental management technique that aims to quantify the environmental impacts of a product system. Research that uses LCA to address the environmental impacts of stream restoration and incorporates effectiveness monitoring into the LCA framework will better inform land managers and decision makers. This project aims to conduct a life cycle assessment of the Lower Scotts Creek Habitat Improvement Project (LSCR), focused on construction and transportation activities. Through identifying the key contributors of environmental impact alternative LCA scenarios may be able to reduce environmental impacts during the stream restoration process. This project evaluates the effectiveness of the restoration project through utilization of topographic surveys that examine instream and off-channel features and incorporate volume change as functional unit for LCA. 

Contact: Cody Morse

Analysis of Summer Stream Temperature Dynamics and Predicted Response to Streamside Canopy Reductions in the Scotts Creek Watershed

Stream temperature is a limiting water quality parameter for cold-water fish species and aquatic invertebrate production in coastal California watersheds. This study will analyzes the dynamic heat and mass transfers associated with summer stream temperatures to assess the potential thermal degradation risk from decreased stream shading. High-resolution stream temperatures are collected with a distributed temperature sensing fiber optic cable. Fluorescent dye were used to measure streamflow and identify stream temperature influences from groundwater inflow and hyporheic exchange. It is predicted that streams with sufficient residence times and subsurface-surface water interactions will be buffered against elevated upstream temperatures through natural diurnal cooling. 

Contact: Dr. Chris Surfleet -

Evaluating Five Years of Soil Hydrologic Response Following the 2009 Lockheed Fire 

The Lockheed Fire burned 7,660 acres of the Scotts Creek watershed in August 2009. The burned region presented an opportunity for studying the hydrologic response of burned soils in the Santa Cruz Mountains where there is insufficient post-fire studies regarding fire-effects on watershed processes such as infiltration and near-surface runoff. Soil infiltration and soil water repellency were evaluated with rainfall simulations, Mini-disk Infiltrometer (MDI) and water drop penetration time tests (WDPT) at sites represented by variations in burn severity, soils, and vegetation types throughout the Scotts Creek watershed each year for 5 years following the burn. Mixed-effects modeling was utilized on the 3 datasets to evaluate if changes could be detected in infiltration rates and water repellency following the fire. Rainfall simulations and WDPT tests showed that the fire did not have a statistically-significant impact on infiltration rates or soil water repellency, whereas the MDI tests detected a statistically-significant impact on post-fire infiltration. 

Contact: Dr. Brian Dietterick -

Little Creek Monitoring Project

The Little Creek Monitoring Project is a long-term study designed to evaluate the water quality and geomorphic conditions of a coastal mountain stream located in the southernmost extent of the redwood/Douglas-fir forest region. The goal of this study is to provide valuable information documenting watershed conditions before, during, and after single-tree and small group selection harvest by evaluating the effectiveness of timber harvesting best management practices in preventing increases in stream suspended sediment export. Its purpose is to provide substantiated scientific documentation to aid in the debate over impacts from timber harvest on forested watersheds. This information may also assist in evaluating the effectiveness of the current forest practice rules in their ability to permit timber harvests in a manner that maintains healthy and productive watersheds.

The project utilizes the combination of paired watershed and upstream/ downstream study designs to monitor water quality using measuring stations, specifically using the South Fork of Little Creek as a control and above and below harvesting areas on the North Fork. At the measuring stations in these locations stage, turbidity, temperature and event-based samples are collected for lab analysis of turbidity, suspended sediment concentration and electrical conductivity. 

In addition to water quality data, there are data gathered for rainfall, longitudinal profile, cross-section, sediment source and laser altimetry (LIDAR) for the watershed. The rainfall data is used to delineate storm events and support analysis of stream flow. The longitudinal profile and permanent channel cross-sections describe existing morphologic conditions and are used to evaluate channel changes over time as well as comparing with LIDAR data. The sediment source survey describes actively eroding stream banks, landslides, and numerous other channel characteristics. The survey will be used to monitor sediment source locations and characteristics throughout the study. Finally, LIDAR provides high-resolution, three-dimensional mapping data.

Contact: Dr. Brian Dietterick -

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