California Water Boards' Annual Performance Report - Fiscal Year 2020-21 

Key Functional Categories

What We Do and How We are Doing


The State and Regional Water Boards adopt plans and policies to carry out federal and State water quality protection laws. The plans and policies contain water quality standards and regulations, which form the basis of the Water Boards' regulatory actions for protecting the quality of the State's waters. The Water Boards monitor and assess the condition of the waters to determine if they are supporting their uses, detect long-term trends, and focus and evaluate regulatory efforts. More...

More information on the FY 2020-21 target results and FY 2021-22 targets

Fiscal Year 2020-21 
Statewide Overview of
Monitoring, Assessment, and Restoration Activities

Plans to Restore Impaired Waters
New TMDL Projects Adopted in FY: 2
Cumulative TMDL Projects Adopted to Date: 228
TMDL Listings Addressed in FY: 119
Cumulative TMDL Listings Addressed to Date: 1,982

Surface Water Monitoring
Site Visits: 1,119
Collections Conducted: 2,135

Annual Recycled Water
Acre-Feet per Year: 686,311

Sewage Spills
Number of Spills: 2,922
Volume Spilled (gallons): 10,023,470

Graph Data Reported

Surface Water Monitoring


Sewage Spills

Set Water Quality Standards - What are safe levels of pollutants in waters?

The State's water quality standards consist of:

  • Antidegradation Policy
  • Beneficial uses of water
  • Water quality objectives

Antidegradation Policy
The Antidegradation Policy, adopted by the State Water Board in 1968, states that high quality waters shall be maintained unless a change in water quality (1) is consistent with maximum benefit to the people of the State, (2) will not unreasonably affect present and anticipated beneficial uses of the water, and (3) will not result in water quality less than that prescribed in policies.

Beneficial Uses
The waters of the State are beneficially used in many ways. Some of the most common uses of water are drinking, bathing, swimming, boating, fishing, irrigation, farming, industrial processes, power generation, and environmental uses such as fish and wildlife habitat. The beneficial uses of the surface waters and groundwaters of the State are designated in the water quality control plans adopted by the Regional Water Boards.

Water Quality Objectives
Water quality objectives are established to protect the beneficial uses of the State's waters. The objectives describe or set the limits or levels of pollutants or other characteristics of the water that will reasonably protect its uses or prevent nuisance.

The Water Boards establish the State's water quality standards (comprised of the three elements above), along with a program of implementation for meeting the standards, in water quality control plans and policies. Each Regional Water Board has a water quality control plan, called a Basin Plan, that contains the designated beneficial uses, water quality objectives, and implementation plan for achieving the objectives and protecting the uses of the waters in their regions. The State Water Board has adopted water quality control plans and policies that address issues of statewide concern (such as the Thermal Plan) or affect multiple regions (such as the Ocean Plan).

Basin Planning - What is the primary foundation for protecting the quality of our waters?

Basin planning involves the maintenance and update of regional water quality control plans, or Basin Plans, adopted by the Regional Water Boards. Basin Plans are the Water Boards' primary water quality control planning documents for protecting the quality and beneficial uses of the State's surface and ground waters. They serve as the principal basis for waste discharge requirements (permits) issued and cleanup requirements established by the Water Boards, and also are used by outside agencies in their permitting and resource management activities. Basin Plans are comprised of three major elements:; designated beneficial uses, water quality objectives to protect the uses, and a program of implementation for achieving the objectives. The Regional Water Boards amend their Basin Plans as necessary during triennial review processes, which involve public participation.

Monitoring and assessment of the State's surface and groundwaters provides the data and information that is essential to determining their condition, establishing water quality standards, guiding the Water Boards and their partners in taking actions that protect the waters, and evaluating the effectiveness of our pollution control efforts.

To obtain needed data and information, the Water Boards rely on their Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program and Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP), including a citizen monitoring component of SWAMP, in conjunction with the monitoring efforts of numerous local, State, and federal agencies.' Monitoring consists of going out to a site, making observations, and taking measurements and samples for analysis.' Samples may be taken for chemical, toxicological, or biological analysis in the field or laboratory.' The data and information gathered from sampling events are recorded for subsequent assessment to determine the health of the water and aquatic organisms.

Effective monitoring programs are designed to answer specific assessment questions to assist in managing the resource.' These assessment questions pertain to the following:

  • Status: What is the overall quality of California's surface waters?
  • Trends: What is the pace and direction of change in water quality over time?
  • Problem Identification: Which water bodies have water quality problems and which areas are at risk?
  • Diagnostic: What are the causes of water quality problems and where are the sources of those stressors?
  • Evaluation: ;How effective are clean water projects and programs?

To use a medical analogy, the doctor may take your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure to assess your health status. Current measurements can be compared to your chart to determine trends, whether a condition is getting better or worse. Tests might be recommended to characterize a medical problem. Additional tests might be required to diagnose the cause. Finally, if treatment is prescribed, then follow up visits are necessary to evaluate the success of the program. These same questions must be answered on a routine basis through monitoring and assessment to maintain the health of the State's water resources.

Periodically, the Water Boards update their water quality assessment report on the condition of California's waters, as required by the federal Clean Water Act Section 305(b). This "California 305(b) Report on Water Quality", which is posted on the State Water Board's website, presents summaries of water quality data and information, including information on impaired water bodies. For a water body to support its beneficial uses, the water must be of sufficient quantity and meet its water quality standards. When monitoring and assessment indicate that one or more water quality objectives are not being met in a water body, the water is presumed not to support its beneficial uses and is considered impaired. In addition, the Water Boards may use numerical water quality limits from the literature for over 850 chemical constituents and water quality parameters, collectively called water quality goals, to determine whether beneficial uses of surface water are likely to be impaired or threatened. In 2010, the Water Boards combined the Clean Water Act Section 303(b) Report on the quality of waters in California and the Clean Water Action Section 303(d) list of impaired water bodies as an Integrated Report.

Impaired Waters

If a water body is determined to be impaired due to one or more pollutants, it is listed on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of impaired waters of the State, which is maintained on the State Water Board's website. To remove a water body-pollutant combination from the 303(d) list, additional surface water monitoring data assessments must show that the water quality standards for the water are being met, including that the beneficial uses are being protected, for those specific pollutants.

For surface water bodies that do not meet water quality standards, the Water Boards take steps to bring them into compliance so that the uses of the water are protected The primary tool to restore a surface water is called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.

Basically, a TMDL does three things: (1) specifies the amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards; (2) specifies the amount of the pollutant that each source of the pollutant may contribute; and (3) identifies actions to return the impaired water to compliance with standards.

Implementing a TMDL can have far-reaching effects on a watershed and the involved stakeholders - those who have an interest or stake in the outcome, which includes the regulatory agencies, the regulated community, and the public. A TMDL considers all sources and causes of impairment, and allocates responsibility for taking corrective measures.

Types of Pollutant Sources
  • Point sources (pollutants are discharged from a single discrete source, such as a pipe or culvert)
  • Nonpoint sources (pollutants are discharged over a diffuse and wide area, such as agricultural runoff)
Five Steps to a TMDL
  1. Involve stakeholders
  2. Assess water body
  3. Set pollutant allocations
  4. Develop implementation plan
  5. Amend Basin Plan

On October 11, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the Water Boards' final 2010 California Section 303(d) list, which identified 3,489 listings that affect 1,133 water bodies in the State. A listing is defined as a water body-pollutant pair, and a water body may have more than one listing.; For example, if a lake contains two chemicals that exceed their water quality objectives, that would be counted as two listings. One TMDL project can address one or more listings.

With the adoption of TMDLs and their implementation plans in the Regional Water Board Basin Plans, the work of taking actions to remedy the impairments begins. Further monitoring and assessment helps us to determine the effectiveness of those actions.

Improving and Restoring Impaired Watersheds and Water Bodies

To help focus State and federal efforts in improving and restoring impaired water bodies and watersheds, the Water Boards are tracking and documenting progress on two key national performance measures in the USEPA's 2006-2011 Strategic Plan. The USEPA's Watershed Improvement Measure (also known as SP-12 or Measure W) was established to model and demonstrate the effectiveness of the watershed approach in improving water quality conditions in certain impaired watersheds.

Watershed Approach
  • Is hydrologically defined
    • geographically focused
    • includes all stressor (air and water)
  • Involves all stakeholders
    • includes public (federal, state, local) and private sector
    • is community based
    • includes a coordinating framework
  • Strategically addresses priority water resource goals (e.g. water quality, habitat)
    • integrates multiple programs (regulatory and voluntary)
    • based on sound science
    • aided by strategic watershed plans
    • uses adaptive management

Source: USEPA (

The Water Boards are also tracking and documenting progress for the USEPA's Restoration of Nonpoint Source Impaired Waters measure (known as WQ-10), which identifies impaired water bodies on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list that have been partially or fully restored as a result of various nonpoint source control activities.