Welcome to the State Water Resources Control Board - North Coast california environmental protection agency

Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program

Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements -  Third Party Programs -  Inspections  
  Enforcement -  Education and Outreach -  Useful Information -  Contact


Growing cannabis? As of February 15, 2016, cultivators with 2000 square feet or more of cannabis are required to enroll in a new water quality regulatory program (Order R1-2015-0023), either directly with the Regional Water Board, or via an approved third party program. Additionally, smaller operations or operations with similar environmental effects, where there is a threat to water quality, may be directed to enroll under the Order.

You may request Regional Water Board staff to conduct a consultation inspection. This is an opportunity to verify tier status, identify features to include in a water resource protection plan, and discuss treatment schedules. For scheduling, please contact a staff person listed at the bottom of the page. Note you do not need to have your property inspected in order to enroll.


  • Staff provided the Regional Water Board with an update on the Cannabis Program at the Board's April 7, 2016 meeting, in Eureka. This informational item is No. 3 on the agenda; the Executive Officer's Summary Report for the Cannabis Program Update and an audio recording of the item can be accessed here:
  • The power point presentation can be accessed here:

Upcoming Compliance Workshops

Compliance workshops are designed to provide individuals who are just learning about the Cannabis Waste Discharge program an introduction and overview of the Order, to answer questions from both current and prospective enrollees, and to provide an opportunity for all cultivators to learn about current best management practices and techniques that can be applied to their operations.

Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements

The order provides a mechanism for water quality compliance. Refer to Order Enrollment Procedure, below for instructions on enrolling for coverage under the Order.

Enrollment in this Order does not preclude the need for permits that may be required by other governmental agencies, nor does it supersede any requirements, ordinances, or regulations of any other regulatory agency, including necessary certification and permitting for the application of pesticides and herbicides and proper handling and disposal of solid and domestic wastes.

This Order does not in any way authorize, endorse, sanction, permit or approve the cultivation, possession, use, sale or other activities associated with cannabis. Individuals engaging in cannabis cultivation and other activities risk prosecution under federal, state, or local law.

* The Regional Water Board Executive Officer approved revisions to Appendices A and C on February 17, 2016, intended to add clarity and include better directions for form completion and submission. Staff will continue to accept earlier versions of these forms, but encourage those who have not yet enrolled to use the new forms.

Order Summary

The Order includes enforceable requirements which cultivators need to become familiar with to ensure their operations do not impact water resources. Below is a brief summary of primary elements of the Order and are also summarized in
Fact Sheet: North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program

  1. A tiered enrollment structure relative to the potential threat to water quality.
    1. Tier 1 is a low-threat tier based on compliance with standard conditions and site characteristics (less than 5000 ft2 of total cultivated area, no cultivation on slopes greater than 35%, no cultivation areas or associated facilities are located within 200 feet of a surface water (i.e., wetland, Class I, II, or III streams), and no surface water diversion from May 15 - October 31.  The annual fee is $1000.
    2. Tier 2 is a management tier for operations that do not meet the standard conditions or otherwise do not qualify for Tier 1.  Within 180 days of enrollment, Tier 2 enrollees shall develop and implement a site-specific water resource protection plan that includes management measures to be implemented to meet the standard conditions.  The annual fee is $2500. Please see the general template for a water resource protection plan.
    3. Tier 2* is a tier for operations with less than 10,000 ft2 of total cultivated area, where enrollees have fully implemented a water resource protection plan, meet the standard conditions, and are determined by RWB staff or an approved third party to pose a low threat to water quality.  The annual fee is $1000.
    4. Tier 3 is a cleanup tier, which requires the development and implementation of a cleanup and restoration plan.  A Tier 3 enrollee has 45 days to develop and submit a cleanup and restoration plan for RWB approval.  Tier 3 is not eligible for enrollment via a third party program. Tier 3 Dischargers who are cultivating cannabis concurrent with or following site cleanup activities must also enroll in and conform with Tier 2 requirements.  The annual fee is $10,000.
  1. Standard conditions to protect water quality in conjunction with a Best Management Practice (BMP) Appendix provide a framework for cultivators to assess their sites for appropriate tiers and determine what management measures are necessary to protect water quality. All BMPs in Appendix B are considered enforceable conditions under the Order as applicable to a given site. The draft Order includes standard conditions regarding:
  1. Site maintenance, erosion control and drainage features
  2. Stream crossing maintenance and improvement
  3. Stream and wetland buffers
  4. Spoils management
  5. Water storage and use
  6. Irrigation runoff
  7. Fertilizers and soil amendments
  8. Pesticides
  9. Petroleum products and other chemicals
  10. Cultivation-related wastes
  11. Refuse and human waste, and
  12. Remediation, cleanup, and restoration activities
  1. Associated procedural forms including a notice of intent of enrollment, a monitoring and reporting form, and a checklist for remediation and restoration work in streams or wetlands.
  2. General Prohibitions including discharges or threatened discharges to surface waters.
  3. A framework for non-governmental third party programs to assist cultivators with enrollment, compliance activities, and monitoring and reporting.
  4. A framework for development and implementation of water resource protection and cleanup and restoration plans.

Order Enrollment Procedure

To enroll, fill out and submit the NOI (Appendix A) and the reporting section of the Monitoring and Reporting Program form (Appendix C), to the email address or mailing address indicated on the NOI form, and mail a check for the appropriate fee (make your check payable to the State Water Resources Control Board) to:

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd. Suite. A,
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

All cash payments must be submitted directly to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), not the Regional Water Board.  The State Water Board prefers that payments be made by check or money order. Money orders are available in large denominations (up to $1000) at many local retail outlets and post offices across California and, if used, will expedite the enrollment process. The State Water Board may be able to accept cash payments at its downtown Sacramento location.  Cash payments, however, will require additional time and an appointment with the State Water Board's Sacramento office.  For an appointment, please call: (916) 341-5021.  A delay in enrollment due to the need for a cash payment is not an excuse for non-compliance with applicable enrollment requirements.
The fees for enrollment are set by the State Water Resources Control Board.


The Water Boards have provided translated materials in Spanish, Hmong, and Bulgarian.  Below are links to the following translated materials: Fact Sheet North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program; Order Appendix A: Notice of Intent; Order Appendix C: Monitoring and Reporting Program; and the current enrollment Fee Structure.




Third Party Programs

Regional Water Board approved third party programs will be listed here:

Approved Third Party Programs:

Pacific Watershed Associates, http://pacificwatershed.com/

Timberland Resource Consultants, http://timberlandresource.com/

Tier 1 and 2 dischargers have the option to enroll, participate, and comply with Order No.R1-2015-0023 through an approved, third party program. In contrast to a consultant, the intent for third party programs is to address the privacy concerns of individual dischargers, provide efficient administration of and verification of conformance with the Order, provide technical assistance, while also providing an added level of privacy for dischargers.

Staff are currently reviewing applications for third party program approvals. Please check back on this web page throughout the remainder of 2015, or sign up on our Cannabis Discharge Regulatory Program email listserv for updates on third party program development.

For organizations or individuals interested in proposing a third party program for consideration by the Regional Water Board, please review the following documents.


The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board's role in the inspections is to evaluate compliance with the Basin Plan, the California Water Code, and the Clean Water Act. Regional Water Board staff inspections are focused on compliance assistance and enforcement. Compliance assistance generally is aimed at ensuring those that are required to enroll in the Order do so, verifying tier status, review of conformance with standard conditions and BMPs, and review of adequacy and implementation of applicable water resource protections plans, including treatment schedules. In the event of violations identified, the Regional Water Board undertakes appropriate enforcement actions.

Staff is offering compliance inspections. These inspections offer education about the Order and compliance assistance to landowners already enrolled or anticipating enrollment under the Order. To request an inspection, please contact one of our staff people listed at the bottom of the page.

The North Coast region participates in ongoing interagency inspections in coordination with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) Office of Enforcement, State Water Board Division of Water Rights, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The inspections are generally prioritized to focus on subwatershed areas where there are identified cumulative effects and a concentration of probable operations conducting cannabis cultivation and associated activities.


It is essential for the North Coast Region to enforce water quality laws, the Basin Plan, requirements, permits, and orders so as to attain healthy watersheds, effective regulation, and strong partnerships. Consistent and effective enforcement, which includes compliance assistance, is necessary to deter practices that could lead to violations; to promote justice; to reduce the incentive for an unfair economic advantage of noncompliance; to safeguard the public trust; and to protect and restore beneficial uses of water.

If you are engaged in cultivating marijuana on private land, whether as owner, lessee, or operator, enrolling in the Regional Water Board's Order and being able to demonstrate a valid water right to the Division of Water Rights may be required. If you do not obtain the appropriate permits, you may be subject to administrative and/or judicial civil enforcement. If you cause, or threaten to cause, harm to water quality, you may face civil liabilities and be required to clean up the property at your own expense. The unauthorized diversion or storage of water is subject to further and separate civil liabilities and compliance orders by the Division of Water Rights.

Consistent with the enforcement policy, the Water Boards use a progressive enforcement approach that utilizes limited enforcement resources efficiently and effectively. Progressive enforcement is a general concept whereby enforcement actions can range from informal actions to very formal, depending on the extent of violations, history of non-compliance and other factors. An informal enforcement action can be a simple verbal contact by staff that brings a violation to a landowners' attention and provides the opportunity for compliance. If the landowner's response is unsatisfactory, staff may escalate their enforcement. Based on the landowner's first response, staff may opt to take no action, follow up with site visit(s) to confirm compliance and/or provide technical assistance, or continue with more enforcement. For serious violations, staff may send a Notice of Violation and request a written response.

At this stage, a case may be evaluated for Administrative Civil Liability (i.e., financial penalties) or other formal enforcement measure. Formal enforcement actions are generally reserved for the most egregious of violations. Formal enforcement actions could include Notice to Comply (for example with Order R1-2015-0023 requirements); required submission of technical reports; issuance of Cleanup and Abatement Orders if you cause, or threaten to cause, harm to water quality; Time Schedule Orders; Cease and Desist Orders; Modification or rescission of the Order requirements; and Administrative Civil Liabilities.


The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board takes complaints, conducts complaint inspections, and can conduct follow-up enforcement. Individuals filing a complaint have the option to remain anonymous. To file a complaint, you may do so on line at:

or contact Regional Water Board staff Stormer Feiler at (707) 543-7128 and Stormer.Feiler@waterboards.ca.gov.

Education and Outreach

Education and Outreach are critical components to water quality protection efforts in the North Coast.

Regional Water Board Education and Outreach

The Regional Water Board's recent outreach and education efforts include:

  • Distributing brochures to individuals, supply stores, partner agencies, and interested third party entities with general information including Water Board staff contact information and the need for a permit, the potential for water quality impacts from cannabis cultivation and related activities, and enforcement in relation to discharges of waste and improper water diversions.
  • Attending and speaking at public outreach events relating to cannabis cultivation discharges;
  • Providing general information via presentations and informational meetings to specific interest groups, including environmental groups, governments, grower associations and third party entities; and
  • Being interviewed on public radio and in print media.

Staff will continue to conduct various public meetings and events to provide education and outreach to support the cannabis waste discharge regulatory program. If you would like to invite the North Coast Regional Water Board staff to attend and/or present at an event, please contact Connor McIntee (707) 576-2499, Connor.Mcintee@waterboards.ca.gov

Non-Profit Education and Outreach

The following non-profit entities* provide resources, education and outreach in the North Coast region for various land management practices relevant to cannabis cultivation operations or other operations with similar environmental effects:

  • Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP)
    Specializes in watershed monitoring, education, and improvement of the Eel River. Currently offering free, confidential technical assistance in pollution prevention and water conservation, and is monitoring water temperature in the Eel River watershed with funding from the Water Boards.
  • Mendocino Resource Conservation District (MRCD)
    Specializes in sediment control, water pollution prevention, restoration, and grant assistance in Mendocino County. Recently developed a BMP guidance document for cannabis cultivators with funding from the Water Boards.
  • Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF)
    Their water rights education program offers water rights and permitting, grant assistance. Currently is conducting water conservation and education in the Redwood Creek watershed of the South Fork Eel with funding from the Water Boards.
  • California Trout (CalTrout)
    Currently is conducting instream flow study in Sproul Creek watershed of the South Fork Eel to inform strategies to address critical low summer stream flow conditions impairing juvenile salmon and steelhead rearing habitat, with funding from the Water Boards.
  • Trout Unlimited
    Promotes water conservation, seasonal storage, and sediment reduction to improve streamflows and habitat for fish. Pursues grant funding opportunities in partnership with landowners and other groups for water storage, flow enhancement, and habitat improvement projects.
  • Environmental Information and Protection Center (EPIC)
    EPIC and Mad River Alliance are partnering with Humboldt Green, California Growers Association and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District to produce a series Cannabis Farmers Compliance Workshops and a 2016 Compliance Handbook. The purpose of these workshops is to help educate people about: a suite of new laws and regulations for commercial medical cannabis agriculture, the steps necessary to have farms comply with the new laws, and how to protect the health of our forests, water, and quality of life here on the North Coast.

*The above list is by no means exhaustive or inclusive. Please check back on this web page throughout 2015 and 2016 for updates.

Useful Information



Other Available Resources

Water Board Contacts

Please subscribe to the email listserv to stay informed on the latest North Coast Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program developments:

If you have questions about the Cannabis Cultivation Waste Discharge Regulatory Program, please contact the following Water Board staff:

Senior Water Resource Control Engineer
(707) 576-2350

Environmental Scientist
(707) 576-2499

Water Resource Control Engineer
(707) 576-2682

Engineering Geologist
(707) 576-2610

Water Resource Control Engineer
(707) 576-2672

Environmental Scientist
(707) 543-7128

Senior Water Resource Control Engineer
State Water Resources Control Board
Office of Enforcement
Phone: (916) 341-5272