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Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit

California Nonpoint Source Pollution (14-CA-a)

The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the California Coastal Commission (CCC), in coordination with the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB), are the lead state agencies in California for the development and implementation of the California Nonpoint Source Program Strategy and Implementation Plan, 1998-2013 (NPS pollution control program). The SWRCB is currently in the process of developing a new 6-year nonpoint source program for 2014-2020. Under current California law, relevant agencies have three general options for regulating nonpoint pollution discharges: the NPS pollution control program, the waste discharge requirements, or waivers of regulation.

NPS Pollution Control Program

The Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (Porter-Cologne) is the primary water quality control law in California. The act authorizes the state to implement the Clean Water Act. Porter-Cologne applies broadly to all state waters, including surface waters, wetlands, and groundwater. The Porter-Cologne’s provisions reflect the legislative intent that activities and factors that could affect the quality of state waters “be regulated to attain the highest water quality that is reasonable.” Porter-Cologne applies to both point and nonpoint sources. Cal. Wat. Code § 13000

Porter-Cologne is administered regionally, within the framework of statewide coordination and policy. The state is divided into nine regions, each governed by a RWQCB. The SWRCB oversees and guides the RWQCBs through several activities. The SWRCB adopts state policy for water quality control, statewide water quality control plans, and regulations that are binding on the RWQCBs. In addition, the SWRCB must approve regional water quality control plans before they become effective. The SWRCB also adopts statewide general permits.

Cal. Wat. Code § 13160

California has been implementing programs to deal with nonpoint source pollution (NPS) through a five-phase plan carried out over the course of over 15 years. The program sets out required management measures (MM) and management practices (MP) for certain areas and activities that are of particular concern for NPS pollution. MMs and MPs are implemented through the use of NPS pollution control programs. Porter-Cologne is used as a back-up enforcement mechanism to prevent NPS. If the project is not covered by the general NPS pollution control programs, the developer may be required to file a waste discharge report (WDR) as with discharge into groundwater under Porter-Cologne. Alternatively, the developer may choose to craft a project-specific NPS pollution control program in order to avoid WDR requirements.

Cal. Wat. Code § 13369

Because the SWRCB is currently developing a new statewide NPS program for 2014-2020, a developer should maintain consistent contact with the relevant agencies and be aware of any changes that may affect the NPS control program process.


Nonpoint Source Pollution Process

14-CA-a.1 – Has the SWRCB or a RWQCB Implemented a NPS Pollution Control Program for the Proposed Activity?

The SWRCB and the RWQCBs have developed NPS pollution control programs for six general NPS sources including:

  • Agricultural operations;
  • Urban sources;
  • Marinas;
  • Hydromodification activities;
  • Wetlands; and
  • Grazing.

NPS Quick Reference Guide

The NPS pollution control programs set out requirements for basin and land uses for general activities and also set limits on the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants that a body of water can receive. A developer should contact the relevant RWQCB or the SWRCB to determine if the proposed project is covered under a NPS pollution control program. The NPS pollution control programs designate MMs and MPs to address certain activities that pertain to each general category. If the proposed project falls within any of the general categories, the developer should check with the specific NPS pollution control program to determine whether any MMs or MPs will apply to the project.

NPS Pollution Control Program Fact Sheet

14-CA-a.2 – Contact the SWRCB or the RWQCBs for NPS Pollution Control Program Information

A developer should check with the SWRCB or the appropriate RWQCB to determine whether the proposed project will fall within any of the NPS pollution control programs. A quick reference guide to each of the general NPS pollution source programs can be found at NPS Quick Reference Guide.

14-CA-a.3 – Conduct On-Site Evaluation of MM/MP Effectiveness

California is continually developing plans to evaluate the effectiveness of management programs throughout the state. Effectiveness is primarily evaluated through on-site evaluations conducted by the SWRCB or the relevant RWQCB.

NPS Pollution Control Program

14-CA-a.4 – Does the Developer Choose to Implement a Project-Specific NPS Pollution Control Program?

If the SWRCB or RWQCB NPS pollution control programs do not cover the developer’s project, the developer may choose to develop a project-specific NPS pollution control program. If the developer does not choose to develop a project specific-program, the developer will be required to comply with California’s waste discharge requirements.

14-CA-a.5 – Initiate California Waste Discharge Requirements Process

If the developer chooses not to implement a NPS pollution control program, then the developer initiates the waste discharge requirements process.

Waste Discharge Requirements:
14-CA-e

14-CA-a.6 – Contact the SWRCB or the RWQCBs for the Requirements for Developing a Project-Specific NPS Pollution Control Program

The developer should contact the relevant RWQCB or the SWRCB to determine what requirements are necessary for a project-specific NPS pollution control program. Each of the nine RWQCBs have specific requirements that a developer must incorporate into an NPS pollution control program. A program may be developed which is tailored specifically to the needs of the proposed project.

NPS Pollution Control Program

14-CA-a.7 to 14-CA-a.8– Developer NPS Pollution Control Program

If the developer chooses to create a project-specific NPS pollution control program, the SWRCB has listed five key elements a developer should include when creating the program:

  1. The NPS pollution control program must address NPS pollution in a manner that achieves and maintains water quality objectives and beneficial uses, including antidegradation requirements;
  2. The program must include a description of the MPs and other program elements that are expected to be implemented to ensure attainment of the programs stated purpose, the process to be used to select or develop MPs, and the process to be used to ensure and verify proper MP implementation;
  3. If a RWQCB determines it is necessary to allow time to achieve water quality requirements, the NPS pollution control program must include a specific time schedule and corresponding quantifiable milestones designated to measure progress toward reaching the specified requirements;
  4. The program must include sufficient feedback mechanisms so that the RWQCB, developers, and the public can determine whether the program is achieving its stated purposes; and
  5. Each RWQCB must make clear, before approving the NPS pollution control program, the potential consequences for failure to achieve the NPS pollution control program’s stated purposes.

The listed SWRCB elements are the minimum requirements for a NPS pollution control program. RWQCBs are responsible for ensuring the development and implementation of NPS pollution control programs throughout California and may require more specific details before approving a developer’s NPS pollution control program.

NPS Pollution Control Program

14-CA-a.9 – Does the RWQCB Approve the Developers Program?

In order for a RWQCB to approve a developer’s NPS pollution control program, the RWQCB must judge each program individually on its merits. The RWQCB must assess the program’s potential to result in the implementation of actions to successfully prevent or control discharges of NPS pollution. The ultimate goal of an NPS pollution control program is the protection of the beneficial uses of state water. If the RWQCB approves the developer’s program, the developer may implement the plan and proceed with the proposed project. If the RWQCB rejects the developer’s program, the developer may challenge the decision by appealing to the SWRCB.

NPS Pollution Control Program

14-CA-a.10 to 14-CA-a.11– Does the Developer Appeal the RWQCB’s Rejection of the Program?

Within 30 days of the RWQCB’s decision to reject the developer’s NPS pollution control program, the developer may petition the SWRCB to review the RWQCB’s decision. If the developer does not appeal the RWQCB’s decision to reject the program within 30 days, the developer may not proceed with the proposed project as planned.

Cal. Wat. Code § 13320

14-CA-a.12 – Does the SWRCB Approve the Developer’s Program?

Once the SWRCB has reviewed the RWQCB’s decision to reject the developer’s NPS pollution control program, the SWRCB may then either approve or reject the developer’s program. If the SWRCB decides to reject the developer’s program, the developer may not proceed with the proposed project as planned. If the SWRCB approves the developer’s program, the developer may implement the NPS pollution control program and proceed with the project.

Cal. Wat. Code § 13320

14-CA-a.14 to 14-CA-c.15 – Will the Developer Conduct its own Review Measures?

Developers may monitor the effectiveness of their own practices, interpret the results, and modify their practices if necessary. The SWRCB and the RWQCB continually provide technical resources that include standard monitoring protocols, quality assurance plans, guidance on how to start a community-based monitoring program, and data storage and retrieval mechanisms. Monitoring protocols are designed to evaluate a NPS pollution control program’s effectiveness and optimize data comparability between watersheds. Protocols can also be tailored to a developer’s needs and geographical diversity. California Nonpoint Source Program Strategy and Implementation Plan, 1998-2013. Because these protocols are continuously amended to effectively protect California water, the developer should consult the SWRCB or the appropriate RWQCB for up-to-date information.

14-CA-a.16 – Conduct On-Site Evaluation of MM/MP Effectiveness

California is continually developing plans to evaluate the effectiveness of management programs throughout the state. Effectiveness is primarily evaluated through on-site evaluations conducted by the SWRCB or the relevant RWQCB.




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