Many of our state’s coastal waters — rivers, creeks, lakes, lagoons, bays, estuaries, and the ocean — are degraded or threatened by polluted runoff, which can harm aquatic ecosystems, public health, and the local economy. Polluted runoff — also known as nonpoint source (NPS) pollution — is generated by a variety of land use activities, including urban development, agriculture, and forestry.

Numerous local and regional groups are active in water quality protection and restoration efforts in California’s coastal watersheds. In addition, most cities have polluted runoff control programs, and 28 state agencies have responsibilities for implementing the state’s NPS Program

California’s Critical Coastal Areas (CCA) program aims to foster collaboration among local stakeholders and government agencies, to better coordinate efforts to protect high resource-value coastal waters from polluted runoff. This non-regulatory program, which is part of the state’s NPS Program, is coordinated by Coastal Commission staff.

How CCAs were Identified

The criteria used to identify coastal watersheds as Critical Coastal Areas reflect the dual goals of improving degraded coastal water quality, and providing extra protection from polluted runoff to coastal waters with recognized high resource value. The multi-agency Statewide CCA Committee selected initial criteria for identifying CCAs in 1995, and added new criteria in 2002 and 2014, resulting in the current list of 119 CCAs.

CCA Factsheets

A factsheet is available for most of the CCAs, which includes a watershed description, the reason for CCA identification, polluted runoff conditions, and efforts to address polluted runoff in the watershed. However, the factsheets are from 2008, and therefore may contain out-of-date information. CCAs added in 2014 do not yet have a factsheet.

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Regional Maps of CCAs

Seven regional maps show the location of the CCAs. Maps 1-6 were updated in 2018 to include California's Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The statewide network of MPAs protects the diversity and abundance of marine life, the habitats they depend on, and the integrity of marine ecosystems.

Action Plan for Pilot CCAs

In 2005, the Statewide CCA Committee chose five Pilot CCAs. Teams of local stakeholders (watershed groups, special interest organizations, and community members) and government agencies (local, state, and federal) were formed to develop a community-based NPS Watershed Assessment and Action Plan for addressing polluted runoff threatening coastal resources within each of the pilot CCAs.