Originating in the Cuesta Hills of Los Padres National Forest, Pennington Creek is a small, coastal stream that joins Chorro Creek and flows into Morro Bay. At 3.2 square miles, the Pennington Creek watershed is relatively small, but it’s home to several threatened and sensitive species including California Red-Legged Frog, Southwestern Pond Turtle, Tricolored Blackbird, and the federally threatened south-central California Coast Steelhead Trout. Thriving willow and oak woodlands provide habitat for many other local wildlife species in Pennington Creek’s riparian area.
Escuela Ranch – Northwest of Cal Poly’s Campus
Pennington Creek runs through Cal Poly’s 2,562-acre Escuela Ranch, which hosts the University’s Commercial Cow/Calf Student Enterprise Project and runs over 150 head of cattle. Cal Poly provides water to these cattle by pumping water from two shallow wells that are hydrologically connected to streamflow, which could inadvertently affect aquatic habitats – especially in the summer when stream flows are at their lowest. To balance Escuela Ranch’s water needs with Pennington Creek’s sensitive ecosystem, Cal Poly currently captures and stores rainwater to off-set the need to pump water from wells near the creek in the dry season.
Rainwater from the roofs of several ranch buildings and shade structures, is collected, filtered, and piped to four 74,000-gallon storage tanks. This rainwater capture project was completed in 2012 by Morro Bay National Estuary Program and constructed by the California Conservation Corps. To increase the amount of water available to cattle in the dry season in a manner that does not impact aquatic habitats, a second phase is now underway that is being led by Creek Lands Conservation with engineering support from the SLO Coastal Resource Conservation District. This second phase includes capturing winter flood flows in Pennington Creek, storing this water in additional tanks, and utilizing stored water for cattle during the dry months of the year. These actions aim to enhance flow levels for all aquatic species including juvenile steelhead through the dry season, until the rain comes again.
Existing Escuela Ranch Rainwater Harvest Tanks
Hydrological Tests at the Escuela Ranch
Creek Lands Conservation is supporting and monitoring this effort with funding from California’s Wildlife Conservation Board. Both Cal Poly and Creek Lands hope this project will serve as a demonstration for the Central Coast as to how sufficient water can be generated for livestock and leave enough water in the creek for the fish!
Creek Lands Conservation is helping Cal Poly preserve Pennington Creek streamflow for people and fish and wildlife.
(Image by Morro Bay National Estuary Program)
Morro Rock is the crown jewel of Morro Bay and the estuary into which Chorro Creek flows. Wildlife and people share this famous bay and good, clean water is very important to its continued health.