California Water Boards' Annual Performance Report - Fiscal Year 2020-21
Key Functional Categories
What We Do and How We are Doing
THE WATER BOARDS REGULATE
The State and Regional Water Boards identify the sources of pollutants that threaten the quality of the State's waters and regulate those sources by imposing requirements to control the pollutants, based on laws, regulations, plans and policies designed to protect water quality. The State Water Board also regulates water utilities that serve drinking water to the public. Discharges of pollutants come in various forms and amounts, and from a variety of sources. Where a discharge is being made or will be made to a water body, a permit to discharge is needed. Such permits are called "waste discharge requirements". To be effective, the Water Boards must ensure that permit requirements are enforceable. Discharger and water system's compliance with permits is assessed through review of waste discharge reports, and drinking water quality and operational reports, respectively, and inspections. Where documented violations of permit requirements occur, the Water Boards are responsible for taking enforcement actions. more...
Identify and Control Pollutants to Water - What are the sources of water pollution and how do we control them?
The quality of the State's waters can be affected by many sources that come in different forms and amounts. For regulatory purposes, these sources are categorized by whether they are planned, easily-identified "end-of-pipe" waste discharges from a single, discrete source such as constructed conveyance systems (known as "point source discharges"), or from planned or unplanned discharges from more diffuse runoff that covers a wide area (known as "nonpoint source discharges"). The waste can be in liquid or solid form, and can be in small to very large volumes. The Water Boards regulate waste discharges to both surface waters, such as rivers and the ocean, and groundwaters (via discharge to land). The type of permits issued by the Water Boards to control these various sources of pollutants depends on the type/category of waste, where the waste is discharged, and State and federal laws and regulations.
(discrete conveyances such as pipes and ditches)
- Wastewater treatment plant
- Industrial plants
- Stormwater (for regulatory purposes)
(diffuse runoff over wide areas)
- Agricultural activities
- Timber harvesting
- Mining activities
- Marinas and boating
Types of Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) for Point Sources
The Water Boards issue waste discharge requirements (permits) to individual or groups of dischargers, using information on water quality conditions, the type and characteristics of the discharge, and applicable water quality standards and implementing provisions established in policy, plans, regulations, and laws. Basically, four types of permits are issued by the Water Boards for point source discharges of waste: (1) NPDES permits for wastewater; (2) NPDES permits for storm water: (3) land disposal permits for waste management units; and (4) “Non-15” permits for all other point source discharges.
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits
Under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), NPDES permits control water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the surface waters of the United States. Water Board-issued WDRs for discharges to surface waters serve as NPDES permits required under the CWA. The vast majority of NPDES permits are issued by the Regional Water Boards. Typically, NPDES permits are issued for a five-year term.
The State and Regional Water Boards issue both individual and general NPDES permits. An individual permit is issued for a specific discharge, based on the type of activity, nature of discharge, receiving water quality, and other factors. A general permit is issued to cover multiple facilities within a specific category of point sources that are similar and are within a specifically-defined geographical area. A large number of facilities can be covered under a single general permit, making it a cost-effective and timely approach to regulating a category of pollutant sources.
NPDES permits are issued for both wastewater and storm water discharges.
NPDES Wastewater (Individual) Permits
Permitted wastewater discharges come from two sources: municipal and industrial. Municipal sources are wastewater treatment facilities (otherwise known as sewage treatment plants or publicly-owned treatment works [POTW]) that receive and treat domestic sewage from residential and commercial customers before discharge to a surface water body. Industrial and commercial facilities that discharge their treated wastewater directly to surface waters are permitted individually. Wastewater facilities are issued permits based on the volume of wastewater discharged. A wastewater discharger with design flow of at least 1 million gallons per day (MGD), or has a pretreatment program, is issued a major NPDES permit; a wastewater discharger with a design flow of 1 MGD or less is issued a minor NPDES permit.
NPDES Storm Water (Individual) Permits
Polluted storm water runoff is commonly transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), from which it is often discharged untreated into local waterbodies. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a NPDES permit and develop a storm water management program. Beginning in 1990, medium and large cities or certain counties with populations of 100,000 or more were required to obtain NPDES permit coverage for their storm water discharges as an individual Phase I permit. Municipalities covered under Phase II (populations of less than 100,000) must meet the requirements of the General Permit for the Discharge of Storm Water Permit, adopted by the State Water Board.
NPDES Storm Water (General) Permits
NPDES permits for storm water sources address runoff from industrial, and construction sites as well as municipalities. General permits are used to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants in storm water, and dry weather flows through management measures or Best Management Practices (BMPs) for many of these sources of pollutants. The discharge of pollutants in storm water and dry weather flows from industrial facilities, such as auto dismantlers or manufacturing plants, are regulated under a general NPDES permit for 10 broad categories of industrial storm water. The discharge of pollutants in storm water and dry weather flows from construction activities that disturb at least one acre of soil are regulated under a general NPDES permit for construction storm water.
Discharges of waste that are not regulated under an NPDES permit and may impact a surface or groundwater are issued a waste discharge requirement (permit) solely under the authority of the California Water Code. These discharges, regulated by the Water Boards, include land disposal sites that require containment of the waste, such as landfills, and all other sources of waste to waters of the State that are not regulated under an NPDES permit.
Land Disposal WDR
The Water Boards issue permits for certain solid and liquid waste discharges to land for the purpose of treatment, storage, and disposal in waste management units. Waste management units include waste piles, surface impoundments, and landfills. To ensure that the hazardous and nonhazardous wastes contained in these facilities do not escape to surface or groundwaters, the permits contain requirements for liners, covers, monitoring, cleanup, and closure.
The Water Boards also permit all point source discharges of waste to land that have the potential to affect surface or groundwater quality and that do not require full containment (e.g., are not contained in a landfill or other waste management unit), do not involve confined animal facilities, and do not involve discharge of a pollutant to a surface water of the U.S. (which is subject to an NPDES permit). This category of waste discharges is the most diverse and includes domestic sewage sludge and biosolids, industrial wastewater from power plants, wastes from water supply treatment plants, treated wastewater for aquifer storage and recovery, treated groundwater from cleanup sites, and many others.
Dredge and Fill Discharges
The State and Regional Water Boards issue water quality certifications for projects that require a federal permit or license and may result in a discharge to a water of the State or U.S. Applicants for these federal permits and licenses must obtain State water quality certification that the proposed activity will meet State water quality standards. Most projects requiring water quality certification from the Water Boards involve discharges of dredged or fill materials to waters of the U.S., including wetlands. Such discharges may result from navigational dredging, flood control channelization, levee constructions, channel clearing, fill of wetlands for development, and other activities. Water quality certifications and permits help protect wetlands and other water bodies from construction activities. While the vast majority of water quality certifications for dredge and fill discharges are issued by the Regional Water Boards, the State Water Board may issue certifications for projects that cross regional boundaries. Because any activity that results in an actual or potential discharge that directly or indirectly impacts waters of the State are subject to WDRs, the Water Boards may issue a WDR or waiver of WDR, in addition to a certification, for dredge and fill discharges. The State Water Board also issues water quality certification for projects involving the construction of hydroelectric dams, power plants, and other facilities that are regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and are subject to State water rights permit.
Drinking Water Supply Permits
The State Water Board's Division of Drinking Water (DDW) issue water supply permits to an individual to operate a public water supply system. It is a legal document, stating the conditions under which the public water system will operate. A water supply permit never expires. A water supply permit basically provides two important functions. The first is to designate a public water system and acknowledge its legal right to operate and secondly it serves as an enforceable vehicle to impose appropriate terms and conditions on a public water system that are not covered by regulations and statutes.
There are five types of permit actions that can be taken by the DDW: 1) New/Revised Permit, 2) Permit Amendment, 3) Permit Denial, 4) Permit Suspension, and 5) Permit Revocation. The prevalent permit actions by DDW encompass the issuance of new/revised permits and permit amendments.
Assess Compliance with Requirements to Protect Water Quality
How do we assess compliance with laws and regulations?
The Water Boards assess and promote compliance with waste discharge requirements (permits), water quality control plan prohibitions, enforcement orders, and other regulatory tools by ensuring that permits are enforceable, reviewing self-monitoring reports submitted by the dischargers, conducting inspections of facilities, and investigating complaints about discharges and accidental spills. Most of these activities are done at the Regional Water Boards. Wastewater sites are largely regulated to ensure compliance with effluent limits for specific pollutants. Stormwater sites are regulated to ensure that sediment and other potential contaminants are prevented from leaving these sites though proper on-site controls.
Violations of requirements to protect surface and groundwater quality, along with other pertinent information, are recorded in the Water Boards’ California Integrated Water Quality System (CIWQS) database and Geotracker database. When violations are documented, the Water Boards initiate enforcement actions to promote compliance.