The San Lorenzo River was once celebrated as the heart of Santa Cruz.


Today, the San Lorenzo River remains an important resource – providing 100,000 people with drinking water and providing critical habitat for threatened and endangered species – yet people are disconnected from the river and the parks that line its banks. Businesses and homes face away from the river. Its banks are overrun with invasive species. The fish, birds and wildlife that rely on the river face threats from insufficient flows to impaired water quality to loss of ecosystem diversity. That’s why the Coastal Watershed Council is engaging people who live, work and play along the lower San Lorenzo River to get outdoors and transform their riverfront into a vibrant, welcoming, natural space in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. The San Lorenzo River can be a place where people experience the outdoors as a part of everyday life and where native wildlife can thrive, if we invest in it. 

Why it matters

San Lorenzo River

You drink it.

Approximately 54% of the drinking water for the City of Santa Cruz comes directly from surface water of the San Lorenzo River. Additionally, Loch Lomond reservoir is located on a tributary to the San Lorenzo River, and if you include this reservoir then 66% of City of Santa Cruz drinking water comes from the San Lorenzo River watershed. 100,000 people rely on this drinking water source and if you’re one of the thousands of people who visit Santa Cruz each year, you drink this water too!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and San Lorenzo River

It’s home.

Santa Cruz exists where it does today because of the San Lorenzo River. Native peoples relied on this freshwater resource and so did the Spanish settlers when they arrived in the late 18th century. Downtown Santa Cruz was built along the lower San Lorenzo River and it was a huge part of daily life for decades. However, following the devastating Christmas Flood of 1955, levees were built that walled off the San Lorenzo River from downtown Santa Cruz. Today, we are re-embracing our urban riverfront. The levees remain and protect our community. Santa Cruz’s longest park, the Santa Cruz Riverwalk, also surrounds the lower river and offers the Santa Cruz community the chance to make the river a part of our future.

Parade on the San Lorenzo River levee

It’s for all of us.

The San Lorenzo River can be a driver of economic activity, thriving habitat for birds, bugs and fish, a destination for tourism and recreation and a beautiful natural place the community can feel proud of and safe near. The lower river is home to approximately 122 species of birds. It’s home to fish species like the endangered tidewater goby, endangered Coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. And it’s a city park, a greenbelt for alternative transportation and a place for people to reconnect to nature right in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. Just like the urban riverfronts you hear about across the globe, we too can have a safe, clean and fun San Lorenzo River that connects our community to nature.

Take a Park Ranger With You

You can learn more about the history, ecology and stories of the San Lorenzo River online or on your mobile device using the Mobile Ranger app. Learn about the management of the San Lorenzo River lagoon, the raucous river festivals of yesteryear and balancing the needs for public safety, habitat management and flood control.

Take the tour today!