History of the Water Boards

Evolution of Water Policy

While water pollution control remained with the State Board and nine Regional Boards, new appreciation for the impact of water quality on the lives of Californians evolved in the 1950s and 1960s.

Several measures were proposed to strengthen the then existing Water Pollution Control Board. It was renamed the “State Water Quality Control Board” and was charged with the broader field of water quality rather than the limited field of sewage and industrial waste control.

Recognizing that so many water issues in California involve both quantity and quality, the Committee’s 1966 and 1967 reports proposed a coordinated water regulatory program. These reports included statutory changes that were subsequently enacted and in 1967 the “State Water Quality Control Board” and “State Water Rights Board” merged and the “State Water Resources Control Board” was formed.

Porter-Cologne: California’s Cornerstone of Water Protection Law

The State Assembly asked a panel of industrial, agricultural, and state and local government members to report on needed revisions to existing water quality laws. In 1969, the State Legislature enacted the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the cornerstone of today's water protection efforts in California.

Porter-Cologne, named for the late Los Angeles Assemblyman Carly V. Porter and then-Senator Gordon Cologne, was recognized as one of the nation’s strongest pieces of anti-pollution legislation. Through it, the Water Boards have been entrusted with broad duties and powers to preserve and enhance the state’s complex waterscape. The new state law was so influential that Congressional authors used sections of Porter-Cologne as the basis of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, known as the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act required the states or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to set standards for surface water quality, mandate sewage treatment and regulate wastewater discharges into the nation’s surface waters. It established a multi-billion dollar Clean Water Grant Program that, with Clean Water Bond funding, approved by California’s voters, assisted communities in building municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

The State assumed responsibility for enforcing the Clean Water Act. This involved melding state and federal processes together for activities such as setting water quality standards, issuing discharge permits and operating the grants program.