Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

Protecting our watersheds

Water is life. Human communities, wildlife, and native habitats depend on intact groundwater basins and stream systems to survive and thrive. Protecting watersheds from development is one of the most cost effective ways to ensure sustainable supplies of clean drinking water to local communities, while also providing water, food, and shelter for countless species ranging from salmon to bobcats to songbirds.

The District has protected many watersheds through the purchase of development rights from willing sellers. Though often far away from urban areas, these watersheds provide many important services and benefits to the urban community – they protect downstream communities from flooding, make us more resilient to climate change, support agriculture and local food security, enhance public health, sequester carbon, provide places for recreation, and of course protect our water supply.

Cooley Ranch

Cooley Ranch is a 19,000-acre property in northern Sonoma County with a rich diversity of plant and animal species, and unspoiled landforms reminiscent of an earlier time. In 2001, the District purchased a conservation easement over the property and in doing so protected over one quarter of the headwaters of the Dry Creek watershed, which supplies drinking water for over 600,000 people in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

Working with the landowner, the District was able to extinguish 78 development rights on the property, and protect miles of stream corridor, oak woodland, grassland and forest. Over 4,000 acres are in agriculture, including up to 1,000 acres of cultivation, and the remaining 75% is in a natural state. Recreational trails have been established and there are regular public outings, hikes and educational programs on the property. Protecting this headwaters area protects drinking water supplies while providing myriad other benefits.

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