Conserving Our Watersheds (COW) Program


The Marin RCD coordinates several environmental projects annually via the Conserving Our Watersheds (COW) Program to promote and support the advancement of water quality improvements within the district.  The COW program has assisted the following watersheds: Tomales Bay, Lagunitas, and Walker Creek Watersheds, and the program will expand into the Stemple (Estero de San Antonio) watershed in 2021.   

Marin RCD has operated this program since 2007 resulting in the implementation of 156 best management practices affecting over 17,700 acres of the 77,439 acres (~23%) of the Tomales Bay Watershed in agricultural production.  

To accomplish this work, Marin RCD fundraised over $2.6 million dollars matched by an additional $1.4 million from private landowners/lessees, other Marin RCD grants including the Marin County Measure A Sale Tax Ordinance, and local natural resource partners: United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (UDSA NRCS), Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW) volunteers, and the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Over the past fourteen years, the COW program has been successful due to our close partnerships with local agricultural technical service providers: Homepage (U.S. National Park Service) University of California Extension announces yield winners | Rice Farming Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet - Point BlueHomepage - Marin Agricultural Land Trust

Finally found a high quality Marin County logo!: Marin  Coastal Conservancy Logos – California State Coastal Conservancy  California Department of Water Resources    USDA-NRCS State Technical Committee virtual meeting set for March 16 -  Piscataquis Observer

And because of the farmers and ranchers of Marin!

Current phases of the COW program:

    • Conserving Our Watersheds: Phase VI – Upgrading Dairies & Ranches Sustainably* (COW-UDRS) assists dairies in the Tomales Bay implement conservation projects to reduce potential pathogen concentrations. This program will also help ranchers and dairies in Sonoma Creek through the Sonoma RCD. 
    • Conserving Our Watersheds: Phase VII – Collaborative Conservation Actions by Farmers* (COW-CCAF) focuses on helping confined animal facilities, and ranches in the Tomales Bay and Estero de San Antonio watershed implement conservation projects to reduce potential non-point source pollutants from entering the watershed.   

*Funding for this program has been provided in full or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the State Water Resources Control Board under the Federal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program (Clean Water Act Section 319). 

The West Marin agricultural community has actively implemented projects with the Marin RCD since the 1960s. Successful partnerships have formed between local, state and federal funders, and agricultural producers who have found commonality in restoration goals. Years of practical experience and trust have led to comprehensive watershed enhancement projects. Some outcomes of completed projects include increases in bird populations and increases in the presence of anadromous fish at restored sites. The Marin RCD culminated this effort into one program, Conserving Our Watersheds (COW) Program.

The goal of the COW program is to support agriculture and the environment by implementing successful voluntary environmental improvements on agricultural lands in West Marin’s watersheds. The objective is to reduce fine sediment delivery by 75-95% for repairs to headcuts, gullies and streambanks; and to reduce fine sediment delivery by 50-75% for riparian fencing and revegetation projects.  Another important goal is to continue to build excellent stewardship practices into the everyday work of ranching and farming in west Marin County.

This is accomplished by providing private landowners and agricultural producers with:  

1) project planning and permitting assistance,  

2) technical/engineering expertise,  

3) construction contractors, and  

4) maintenance and monitoring assistance.     

The COW program utilizes the Marin Permit Coordination Program (PCP), which provides coordinated regulatory review for implementation. Forty-four (44) types of conservation and restoration practices are intended for grazing lands to reduce erosion, reduce greenhouse gases, enhance aquatic and terrestrial habitat and assist ranchers with sound stewardship in the Marin County coastal watersheds. 

Projects are selected through a process that has proven highly successful for other recent Marin RCD grant programs:  First, landowners and local groups submit candidate projects through an open proposal process. Second, a Technical Advisory Committee visits, reviews and ranks the projects, and then make recommendations to the Marin RCD Board for approval. 

 The implementation of management practices are designed to have a significant beneficial effect on the environment and ecological processes within the watershed: 

1) Reduce erosion and sedimentation to improve important spawning areas & reduce sedimentation of estuarine habitats. 

2) Reducing the amount of pathogens entering the watershed by fencing out stream corridors thereby improving waters for recreational uses. 

3) Planting along streams to cool stream temperatures for wildlife habitat & provide improved habitats for threatened & endangered species. 

4) Reduce runoff pollution by fencing out riparian areas, installing biotechnical streambank repairs, planting stream corridors & repairing gully erosion. 

5) Improve upstream grazing lands to indirectly improve water quality at nearby beaches, estuaries & coastal waters by reducing pathogens,  E. coli, sediments and nutrients. 

If you would like to participate in the COW program please contact the Marin RCD at (415) 663-1170. 

Example Projects:


restored gully_before_Gale

Planting project before installation.  

restored gully_after_Gale

Planting Project several years after installation.  

Want to see more projects?

 Click here to check out Marin Resource Conservation District’s Project Tracker!

and then search for Conserving Our watershed!