History of the Water Boards

The Early Years of Water Pollution Control

In the mid-1940s, outbreaks of water-borne diseases, degradation of fishing and recreational waters, coupled with rapid war-time industrial development and population growth prompted a new appraisal of water pollution control.

While there were many government agencies with varying degrees of jurisdiction over waste disposal, public health, or water, attempts to solve new pollution concerns in a planned, manner were unsuccessful.

  • Cities were faced with a need to build large capital improvement programs for pollution control. Industries found differing interpretations of laws and overlapping authority among the local, state, and federal regulatory agencies.
  • New industrial developments were hampered because regulators were unable to provide definite rules about what conditions must be met or what pollution control works would be required.
  • All interests – urban, industrial, agricultural and recreational water users –sought more effective and more equitable water pollution control.

In 1949, the California Assembly Committee on Water Pollution realized that existing laws and procedures were often unreasonable. Jurisdictions tried to enforce the laws amid hostility from the hundreds of agricultural, industrial, and recreational interests involved. The committee said that the state had reached the point where population and industrial growth would exhaust water supplies. California’s limited water resources could only be protected and conserved if regulators found a way to maximize water quality and economic use and reuse.

Sweeping changes in California’s approach to water pollution control and water quality were recommended.

The California Legislature enacted the Dickey Water Pollution Act that took effect October 1, 1949.

Dickey Water Pollution Act: Creation of State Water Pollution Control Board

The Dickey Act created a State Water Pollution Control Board consisting of nine gubernatorial appointees representing specific interests and four ex officio state officials. Its duties included:

  • Setting statewide policy for pollution control
  • Coordinating the actions of those state agencies and political subdivisions in controlling water pollution.

The Legislature realized that California’s water pollution problems were regional and depended on precipitation, topography, and population, as well as recreational, agricultural, and industrial development, all of which vary from region to region.

The Dickey Act established nine Regional Water Pollution Control Boards located in each of the major California watersheds. The Regional Boards have responsibility for overseeing and enforcing the state’s pollution abatement program. Nine gubernatorial appointees, representing water supply, irrigated agriculture, industry, and municipal and county government in that region, served on each Regional Water Board.

Continue to Evolution of Water Policy