The California Water Boards' Annual Performance Report - Fiscal Year 2010-11
What We Do and How We are Doing
THE WATER BOARDS ENFORCE
The Water Boards enforce the pollution control and cleanup requirements that are established for discharges and contaminated sites. Where violations of regulatory requirements are detected, enforcement actions of varying types and levels of stringency are taken. For the most serious violations, penalties are often imposed. The Water Boards also collaborate with federal, State, and local law enforcement, as well as other environmental agencies, to address violations. In all cases, the principal goal of enforcement is to encourage compliance with requirements so that water quality is protected.
Take Enforcement Actions to Achieve Compliance - How do we Address Violations?
When assessing compliance with waste discharge and other requirements, the Water Boards document and track violations of the requirements in the California Integrated Water Quality System (CIWQS) database. Where violations occur, the Water Boards are responsible for taking swift and fair enforcement actions. The Water Boards' approach to enforcement for water quality protection is outlined in the State Water Board' Water Quality Enforcement Policy. This policy describes the framework for identifying and investigating instances of noncompliance, for taking enforcement actions that are appropriate in relation to the nature and severity of the violation, and for prioritizing enforcement resources to achieve maximum environmental benefit.
Enforcement Response to Violations
Violations of water pollution control requirements can vary from not submitting monitoring reports on time, to exceeding limits for discharged pollutants, to causing fish kills. The Water Boards address violations by using progressive levels of enforcement, considering actual or potential impact to the Stateís waters, as needed to achieve compliance. Water Board enforcement actions can be informal or formal. Informal actions are intended to bring an actual, threatened, or potential violation to the dischargerís attention to provide an opportunity to return to compliance as soon as possible. Informal actions include phone calls, e-mails, staff enforcement letters, and notices of violation. Formal actions are administrative or judicial actions that seek to impose sanctions where an adjudicative hearing is available to contest the allegations. The actions can include Investigatory Orders, Cleanup and Abatement Orders, Cease and Desist Orders, and orders imposing Administrative Civil Liability (or ACL, which involves monetary penalties). For the more formal actions, a hearing before the Regional Water Board will generally be necessary. Ideally, serious violations must result in fair and appropriate consequences for violators, including consistent application of penalties and other wide-ranging sanctions available to the Water Boards by law.
Enforcement for serious violations may include imposing penalties. It is important that penalties create a deterrence for further violations. Penalties must be calculated to eliminate the economic advantage achieved through noncompliance with water quality laws. Under State law, mandatory minimum penalties (MMPs) are required for specified violations of NPDES permits. For violations subject to MMPs, the Water Boards must assess an ACL that is equal to or greater than the minimum amount. These mandatory actions should be taken within 18 months of the time that the violations qualify for the assessment of mandatory minimum penalties.
In some situations, the Regional Water Boards accept a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP), or other project, in lieu of monetary payment for a portion of the assessed penalty. SEPs are for environmentally beneficial projects, either for projects the discharger would not otherwise have had to complete, or in some limited cases, for projects designed to return the discharger to compliance.
For more information, see the Water Boards' 2010 Annual Enforcement Report and visit the State Water Board's web page for Enforcement.