Do I need a permit?

If your activities or discharges from your property or business affect California's surface, coastal, or ground waters, you will need to apply for a permit from the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).

If your activities or discharges from your property or business could affect California's surface, coastal, or ground waters, you will need to apply for a permit from the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). This series links will help you determine whether you need a permit, provides links to the appropriate forms, and gives a list of who to contact for further assistance.

  • Who Are We and What Do We Do?

    The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCBs) are State regulatory boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency.

    The SWRCB allocates rights to the use of surface water and, with the RWQCBs, protects surface, ground, and coastal waters throughout the state.

    The RWQCBs issue permits which govern and restrict the amount of pollutants that can be discharged into the ground or a water body.

    An important feature in the issuance of a permit is public participation. Through this participation, all parties can be heard and their needs addressed by their RWQCB.

    Actions, such as the adoption of a permit or inaction by an RWQCB can be appealed to the SWRCB. The SWRCB can uphold the action, reverse it, send the matter back with further instructions, or decide not to consider the appeal. Appeals must be made within 30 days of the RWQCB's action and they must be submitted in writing.

  • Do I Need a Permit?

    If your activities or discharges from your property or business affect California's surface, coastal, or ground waters, you will need to apply for a permit from the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board.

    If you are discharging pollutants (or proposing to) into surface water you must file a complete National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit application form with the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board.

    Other types of discharges, such as those affecting groundwater or from diffused sources (e.g., erosion from soil disturbance or waste discharges to land) are handled by filing a Report of Waste Discharge with the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board in order to obtain Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs).

    For specified situations, some permits may be waived and some discharge activities can be handled through enrollment in an existing general permit.

    Typical activities that affect water include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • discharge of process wastewater not discharging to a sewer (factories, cooling water, etc.)
    • confined animal facilities (e.g., dairies)
    • waste containments (landfills, waste ponds, etc.)
    • construction sites
    • boatyards
    • discharges of pumped groundwater and cleanup (underground tank cleanup, dewatering, spills)
    • material handling areas draining to storm drains
    • sewage treatment facilities
    • filling of wetlands
    • dredging, filling and disposal of dredge wastes
    • commercial activities not discharging to a sewer (e.g., factory wastewater, storm drain)
    • waste to land

    Forms & Permits

    • General Orders
      Waste Discharge Requirements and Permits that apply to specific categories of waste discharge. Application forms and instructions are included where appropriate.

    • Waivers
      Waivers of Reports of Waste Discharge and/or Waste Discharge Requirements for specific types of waste discharge. Application forms and instructions are included where appropriate.

    • Report of Waste Discharge / NPDES Permit Application
      Standard Form 200, and other forms used to apply for Waste Discharge Requirements or a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Instructions are included.
      Any person discharging waste or proposing to discharge waste that could affect the quality of the waters of the state, other than into a community sewer system and any person operating or proposing to construct an injection well is required to file a Report of Waste Discharge with the Regional Water Board. Reports are also required for any material change or proposed change in the character, location, or volume of such a discharge. [California Water Code, Section 13260]

    • Water Quality Certification Application
      This form is used to apply for Water Quality Certification for discharges of dredged and fill materials. Instructions are included.
      By federal law, every applicant for a federal permit or license for an activity which may result in a discharge into a water body must request state certification that the proposed activity will not violate state and federal water quality standards. Water quality standards include beneficial uses of water, water quality objectives and antidegradation policy.
  • What Forms Do I Need?

    Waste Discharge Requirements

    Discharge of waste to land and groundwater from any source, and discharge of waste from agricultural operations to surface water. Form 200

    National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System

    For discharges to surface waters, you will need Form 200, plus Form 1 and one or more of the following federal NPDES permit application forms:

    • General information completed in conjunction with Forms 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, Short Form A and Standard Form A. Form 1
    • Concentrated animal feeding operations and aquatic animal production facilities. New applications or renewals. Form 2B
    • Existing manufacturing, commercial, mining, and silvicultural operations (including federal facilities). Form 2C
    • New manufacturing, mining, commercial and silvicultural operations. Form 2D
    • New applications or renewals of nonmanufacturing facilities, trailer parks, service stations, laundromats, commercial facilities, etc. Form 2E
    • Storm water discharges associated with industrial activity. Form 2F
    • Treatment works treating domestic sewage (sewage sludge). Form 2S
    • Publicly-Owned Treatment Works serving 10,000 persons or less. Short Form A
    • Publicly-Owned Treatment Works serving over 10,000 persons or treating significant industrial waste. Standard Form A
    • Publicly-Owned Treatment Works.Form 2A
    • Limited Threat Discharges General Order Notice of Intent (NOI). NOI Application

    These forms can also be found on U.S. EPA's website: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/npdes-application-forms

    For a table displaying types of dischargers, NPDES application forms needed, and corresonding regulatory citations, please download the EPA application requirements for NPDES individual permits table.

    Hard copies of these forms may also be obtained at a RWQCB office or can be ordered from the National Center for Environmental Publications and Information at (513) 891-6561.

  • How Do I Get Started?

    Do I need a permit - How do I get started?

    The process begins when you request an application from the appropriate RWQCB. You then must file this application. You will be asked to describe the wastes involved, the setting for the discharge, and the method of treatment or containment.

    Once the application is completed and filed, the RWQCB staff will draft a permit. It then must go to the RWQCB to be adopted.

    How do you get an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit or WDRs (Waste Discharge Requirements)?

    NPDES Permit

    The steps to obtain an NPDES permit are as follows:

    1. File the appropriate NPDES application forms with the RWQCB at least 180 days before beginning the activitiy.
    2. RWQCB staff reviews the application for completeness and may request additional information.
    3. Once the application is determined to be complete, staff forwards it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) within 15 days. USEPA has 30 days to review the application for completeness and to request additional information from the discharger. After the request for additional information is met, USEPA has 30 days to forward comments to the staff.
    4. Staff determines if the discharge is to be permitted or prohibited. If a permit is proposed, staff prepares and forwards a copy to USEPA for review.
    5. USEPA reviews the draft and has 30 days to object or submit comments to the RWQCB. USEPA may request an additional 60 days to review the proposed permit.
    6. Following USEPA's review, staff prepares a "Notice of Public Hearing" and mails it to the discharger with instructions for circulation. Staff also mails the public notice and proposed permit to persons and public agencies with known interest in the project. Staff may modify the proposed permit prior to a public hearing based upon comments received from the discharger and interested parties.
    7. The discharger must publish the notice for one day and submit proof of having complied with the instructions to the RWQCB within 15 days after posting or publication.
    8. The RWQCB holds a public hearing with at least a 30 day public notification. The RWQCB may adopt the proposed permit or modify it and adopt it at the public hearing by majority vote. USEPA has 10 days to object to the adopted permit, and the objection must be satisfied before the permit becomes effective.

    The entire RWQCB review and permit issuance process takes approximately six months, but may take longer depending upon the nature of the discharge.

    WDRs

    The steps to obtain Waste Discharge Requirements are as follows:

    1. File the Report of Waste Discharge form with the necessary supplemental information with the RWQCB at least 140 days before beginning to discharge waste.
    2. RWQCB staff reviews the application for completeness and may request additional information.
    3. Once the application is complete, staff determines whether to propose adoption of the WDRs, prohibit the discharge, or waive the WDRs.
    4. If WDRs are proposed, staff prepares draft WDRs and distributes them to persons and public agencies with known interest in the project for a minimum 30 day comment period. Staff may modify the proposed WDRs based upon comments received from the discharger and interested parties.
    5. The RWQCB holds a public hearing with at least a 30 day public notification. If WDRs are uncontested, the notice requirement is only 10 days. The RWQCB may adopt the proposed WDRs or modify and adopt them at the public hearing by majority vote.

    The entire process for developing and adopting the requirements normally takes about three months.

  • What Information Is Needed?

    NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System)

    An applicant/discharger must provide the following information on the NPDES application forms:

    • U.S. EPA identification number;
    • Pollutant characteristics;
    • Facility name, location, address, and contact name and phone number;
    • NAISC codes (type of industry);
    • Existing environmental permits;
    • Topographic map showing facility features;
    • Production, operation and discharge information specific to the type of facility.

    If you need help determining any of this information, you can call an RWQCB contact for assistance.

    WDRs (Waste Discharge Requirements)

    An applicant discharger must provide the following information on the Report of Waste Discharge:

    • Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the owner(s) of the facility, the owner's authorized agent, and any lessee(s) of the facility;
    • Description of the facility or activity, including whether the applicant proposes to increase or change an existing discharge or create a new one;
    • Location of the operation by section, township, and range with a USGS 7.5 minute series topographic map attached;
    • Description of the discharge by type, quality, quantity, interval, and method of discharge;
    • Source of water that contributes to or transports the waste;
    • Water flow and location map, identifying all discharge points; and
    • Statement noting whether an environmental document has been or must be prepared and submitted in a timely manner.

    If you need help determining any of this information, you can call an RWQCB contact for assistance.

  • Permit Assistance
  • Bill of Rights for Environmental Permit Applicants
    The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) endorses the following precepts that form the basis of a permit applicant's "Bill of Rights":
    • Permit applicants have the right to assistance in understanding regulatory and permit requirements. All Cal/EPA programs maintain an Ombudsman to work directly with applicants. Permit Assistance Centers located throughout California have permit specialists from all the State, regional, and local agencies to identify permit requirements and assist in permit processing.

    • Permit applicants have the right to know the projected fees for review of applications, how any costs will be determined and billed, and procedures for resolving any disputes over fee billings.

    • Permit applicants have the right of access to complete and clearly written guidance documents that explain the regulatory requirements. Agencies must publish a list of all information required in a permit application and of criteria used to determine whether the submitted information is adequate.

    • Permit applicants have the right of timely completeness determinations for their applications. In general, agency notify the applicants within 30 days of any deficiencies or determine that the application is complete. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and public hearing requests may require additional information.

    • Permit applicants have the right to know exactly how their application are deficient and what further information is needed to make their applications complete. Pursuant to California Government Code Section 65944, after an application is accepted as complete an agency may not request any new or additional information that was not specified in the original application.

    • Permit applicants have the right of a timely decision on their permit application. The agencies are required to establish time limits for permit reviews.
    • Permit applicants have the right to appeal permit review time limits by statute or administratively that have been violated without good cause. For state environmental agencies, appeals are made directly to the Cal/EPA Secretary or to a specific board. For local environmental agencies, appeals are generally made to the local governing board or, under certain circumstances to Cal/EPA. Through this appeal applicants may obtain a set date for a decision on their permit and in some cases a refund of all application fees (ask boards and departments for details).

    • Permit applicants have the right to work with a single lead agency where multiple environmental approvals are needed. For multiple permits, all agency actions can be consolidated under a lead agency. For site remediation, an applicable laws can be administered through a single lead agency.

    • Permit applicants have the right to know who will be reviewing their application and the time required to complete the full review process.