Site Cleanup Program

In the Site Cleanup Program (SCP), Regional Water Board staff oversee the investigation and cleanup of sites with soil and groundwater pollution by numerous pollutants, including petroleum, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and inorganic constituents, among others. Although the primary focus of the program is restoration of groundwater quality, the Program deals with all environments, including surface water, groundwater, soil, sediment, the vadose zone and air, where vapor releases may affect public health.

Upon confirming that an unauthorized discharge has polluted, is polluting or threatens to pollute water quality, the Regional Board initiates, pending available resources, oversight of site investigation and cleanup. Generally dischargers perform cleanup on a voluntary basis. Sites include industrial facilities, dry cleaners, pipeline leaks and spills, aboveground tank farms, and pesticide and fertilizer facilities, among others. Much of the pollution is due to past waste disposal and handling practices, as well as spills and leaks. Many of these sites have polluted or threaten nearby municipal or private water supply wells.

New sites are discovered as a result of recent spills, property transactions, or nearby environmental investigations, especially UST investigations. Cleanup of Brownfields has become a new focus of the Site Cleanup Program, to provide oversight of cleanup of polluted properties in mainly blighted, urban areas.

Quick Links

SCP Regulations | SCP Elements | Setting Site Cleanup Levels | Cost Recovery (CR) Program | GeoTracker Database Information | GAMA - Groundwater Ambient Monitoring & Assessment Program
| Public Reports | Paperless Office Information | Questions or Comments | Additional Regional Water Board Contact Information

SCP Regulations

The Regional Water Board’s legal authority for regulation of site cleanup is found in Division 7 of the California Water Code, State Board plans and policies (specifically Policies 92-49 with amendment 96-79 and 68-16), and the Region’s water quality control plan (Basin Plan). The Basin Plan complements and implements the California Water Code and State Board policies, and provides the foundation for the Regional Board’s site cleanup regulatory program. The Basin plan designates the beneficial uses of surface and ground water, setting the narrative and numerical water quality objectives to protect those beneficial uses, and establishing implementation plans to achieve the standards established by the plan. The Regional Water Board must ensure that dischargers are required to clean up soil and groundwater to levels that achieve background water quality, or, if background is not reasonable, an alternative level may be set that is the most stringent level that is economically and technologically feasible and at least complies with Title 23 California Code of Regulations (CCR) section 2550.4, protects beneficial uses of water and achieves Basin Plan standards. Section 2550.4 requires consideration of, among other things, public health risks, and damage to wildlife and crops from exposure to waste. A health or ecological risk assessment may be necessary to comply with Resolution 92-49 and to meet the requirements of Title 23 CCR section 2550.4.
The Water Code provides authority for the Water Board to require investigation and cleanup of sites with unauthorized pollutant releases. Water Code Section 13267 allows the Water Board to require technical reports from suspected dischargers.

Water Code Section 13304 authorizes the Water Board to issue “cleanup and abatement” orders requiring a discharger to cleanup and abate waste, “where the discharger has caused or permitted waste to be discharged or deposited where it is or probably will be discharged into waters of the State and creates or threatens to create a condition of pollution or nuisance.” The Water Board coined the term “site cleanup requirements” (SCRs) to describe Water Code Section 13304 orders where soil or groundwater cleanup would take many years to complete and the dischargers are cooperating.

Water Code Section 13304 authorizes the Regional Water Quality Control Boards to recovery reasonable expenses from responsible parties to oversee investigation and cleanup activities. The responsible parties must sign an acknowledgement form stating the intent to pay oversight bills, and a unique account is set up for staff charges. Invoices are generated quarterly from State Water Resources Control Board.

Procedure for site investigation and remediation are promulgated in State Water Resources Control Board Resolution No. 92-49 entitled Policies and Procedures for Investigation and Cleanup and Abatement of Discharges Under Water Code Section 13304. Responsible Parties conduct work in a stepwise fashion, starting with preliminary assessment, then soil and water investigation; interim remedial measures if warranted; risk assessment; setting cleanup goals; cleanup plan; cleanup implementation and monitoring; and No Further Action determination. Most often, responsible parties conduct the work voluntarily, but sometimes enforcement orders are necessary to compel the work to be performed.

General waste discharge requirements exist for contaminated soil and groundwater treatment. General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits exist to regulate the year-round discharge of highly treated groundwater derived from cleanups involving volatile organic compounds.

SCP Elements

The five basic elements of a site investigation and cleanup are as follows:

  1. Preliminary site assessment to confirm the discharge and the identity of the dischargers; to identify affected or threatened waters of the state and their beneficial uses; and to develop preliminary information on the nature and vertical and horizontal extent, of the discharge;
  2. Soil and water investigation to determine the source, nature, and extent of the discharge with sufficient detail to provide the basis for decisions regarding subsequent clean-up and abatement actions, if any are determined by the Regional Water Board to be necessary;
  3. Proposal and selection of clean-up action to evaluate feasible and effective cleanup and abatement actions and to develop preferred clean-up and abatement alternatives;
  4. Implementation of clean-up and abatement action to implement the selected alternative and to monitor in order to verify progress; and
  5. Monitoring to confirm short- and long-term effectiveness of cleanup and abatement.

The following additional elements also apply:

“Cleanup Complete” Determinations - The Water Board provides no further action (NFA) confirmations and no-further-active-cleanup confirmations to responsible parties when no further active cleanup is needed. For petroleum-impacted sites, the Water Board provides a case closure letter as part of the case closure summary report. Dischargers may utilize the Water Board's Assessment Tool for Closure of Low-Threat Chlorinated Solvent Sites (developed by the San Francisco Regional Water Board) as a guide to developing case closure requests and during the site investigation and cleanup process.

Public Participation - The Water Board will provide opportunities for public participation in the oversight process so that the public is informed and has the opportunity to comment. The level of effort is tailored to site-specific conditions, depending on site complexity and public interest. The level of public participation effort at a particular site is based on the potential threat to human health, water quality, and the environment; the degree of public concern or interest in site cleanup; and any environmental justice factors associated with the site.

Electronic Data Reporting - The State Water Board maintains a web-based geographic information system (GIS) program that provides the public and regulators with online access to environmental data. The State Water Board adopted regulations that require electronic submittal of information for groundwater cleanup programs (Title 23, CCR, Division 3, Chapter 30).

Compliance Monitoring – Monitoring reports are required periodically that describe the status of the cleanup activities and monitoring results. The Water Board will conduct site inspections to ensure the responsible party is complying with Water Board enforcement directives.

Deed Restriction - A deed restriction (land use covenant) may be required to facilitate the remediation of past environmental contamination and to protect human health and the environment by reducing the risk of exposure to residual hazardous materials. Water Code Section 13307.1 requires that deed restrictions be mandated for sites that are not cleaned up to “unrestricted use”, and that the restrictions be recorded and run with the land to prohibit sensitive uses such as homes, schools, or day care facilities. Underground storage tank (UST) sites are exempted from this requirement because of the sheer numbers and the small size of most of these sites. Site conditions are tracked in the statewide database developed by the State Water Board, GeoTracker.

Liability Relief Tools - Several tools are available to municipalities, landowners, developers and responsible parties for seeking relief from contamination liability. For specific information see our Brownfields Program webpage.

Setting Site Cleanup Levels

Cleanup levels for soil are determined based on the threat to water quality. Such levels are determined on a case-by-case basis considering the nature of the contaminants, the type of soil, the depth to groundwater, distance to surface water, and other hydrogeologic characteristics. Cleanup levels for groundwaters and surface waters are determined based on application of existing laws, regulations, plans, and policies. In general, waters shall be cleaned up to: background, where feasible; to levels achievable through best available technology; and in all cases at least to water quality objectives. The water quality objective is determined based on the beneficial water use, and the most stringent water quality objective is selected for a given receiving water. Water quality objectives may be numerical (such as those based on Maximum Contaminant Levels or drinking water standards) or may be based in narrative standards, and converted to numerical limits (such as those associated with taste and odor).

Dischargers may utilize screening levels during site investigation and cleanup to focus on the most significant contamination issues. These include the San Francisco Regional Water Board's Environmental Screening Levels(ESLs), Cal/EPA's California Human Health Screening Levels (CHHSLs), and USEPA's Preliminary Remediation Goals (PRGs). Dischargers may need to conduct risk assessments in the course of setting cleanup levels. The Water Board determines excess cancer risks and hazard indices following USEPA guidance (Risk Assessment Guidance for Superfund, Volume 1, parts A through C). The Water Board may modify the USEPA approach based on California OEHHA guidance or more current information.

In addition, the State Water Board has developed information on water quality goals for over 860 chemical constituents and water quality parameters.

Types of Funding Mechanisms for Cleanup Sites

There are four main types of funding mechanisms for sites in the SCP: (1) voluntary cleanups executed and funded by the discharger, (2) “Cleanup and Abatement Order” cleanups executed and funded by the discharger, (3) cleanups executed by the Regional Board or another public agency, county, municipality, or city and funded by the State via the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA), and (4) brownfield cleanup using available grants and loans.

  1. Voluntary Cleanup and Funding
    The majority of SCP sites are voluntary cleanups where the Responsible Party (RP) voluntarily performs the investigation and cleanup by entering into the SWRCB cost recovery program. Via the authority provided in the California WC Sections 13267, 13304 and 13365, the SWRCB set up the cost recovery program so that reasonable expenses incurred by the SWRCB and Regional Boards in overseeing water quality matters can be recovered from the RP. The program is funded with monies from the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA). For a site to be placed in the cost recovery program, a RP must first be identified. The RP agrees to and signs an acknowledgement form stating their intent to pay oversight bills; in return, they receive help from Regional Board staff in cleaning up the site to regulatory standards. An account is set up for water board staff charges, cost recovery invoices are issued quarterly to the RPs, and RP payments are returned to the CAA.

  2. Obligatory Cleanup and Funding Via the Issuance of a “Cleanup and Abatement Order”
    Sometimes, a cleanup and abatement action is taken by the Regional Board to bind the RP to clean up the release. California WC Section 13304 authorizes the SWRCB to issue a “cleanup and abatement order” (CAO) requiring a discharger to cleanup and abate waste, “where the discharger has caused or permitted waste to be discharged or deposited where it is or probably will be discharged into waters of the State and creates or threatens to create a condition of pollution or nuisance.”  In cases where a CAO is issued, the Order provides the basis for reimbursement of SWRCB and Regional Board oversight costs.

  3. Funding of Cleanup Using the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA)
    There is a third type of cleanup site overseen by the SCP where funding for site cleanup and oversight is obtained from the CAA. The CAA is funded by monies: (a) appropriated by the Legislature; (b) contributed to the CAA by any person and accepted by the SWRCB; (c) collected as part of criminal penalties and all moneys collected civilly under any proceeding brought pursuant to any provision of Division 7 of the California WC; and (d) recovered pursuant to California WC Section 13304. The State Water Board, the Regional Water Boards, and any public agency with the authority to clean up waste or abate the effects of a waste on waters of the state may utilize the account. Generally, CAA funds are provided for the emergency cleanup or abatement of a condition of pollution where there are no viable responsible parties (RP) available to undertake the work.

  4. Funding Using Grants and Loans for Brownfield Sites
    Brownfields are under utilized properties where reuse is hindered by the actual or suspected presence of pollution or contamination. Cleanup and redevelopment of these sites benefit the environment and communities by eliminating pollution and contamination problems, allowing economic growth, and revitalizing neighborhoods. Refer to the SWRCB Brownfields Program website for the various grant and loan programs that are available to help assess and cleanup brownfield sites in California

Cost Recovery (CR) Program

If your site has been identified as requiring regulatory cleanup oversight, pursuant to Porter-Cologne, Section 13304, reasonable costs for such oversight can be recovered by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) from the responsible party. The purpose of the section is to explain the oversight billing process structure.

Porter-Cologne, Division 7, Section 13304, authorizes the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) to set up Cost Recovery Programs. A budget document was prepared and approved by the Legislature to establish authority for a Cost Recovery Program for Spills, Leaks, Investigations, and Cleanups (SLIC). The program is set up so that reasonable expenses incurred by the State Water Board and Regional Water Boards in overseeing cleanup of illegal discharges, contaminated properties, and other unregulated releases adversely impacting the State's waters can be reimbursed by the responsible party. Reasonable expenses will be billed to responsible parties and collected by the Fee Coordinator at the State Water Board in the Division of Clean Water Program's (CWP) Land Disposal Section. The Fee Coordinator keeps an active billing list to ensure that charges for such expenses are appropriately assessed and collected in a timely manner.

California WC Section 13365 provides the authority for the adoption of a billing system for the cost recovery of investigation, analysis, planning, implementation, oversight, or other activity performed by SWRCB and Regional Water Boards related to the removal or remedial or corrective action of a release of a hazardous substance.

Each account has a unique charge number assigned to it. Whenever any oversight work is done, the hours are billed to the charge number. For these charges, the hours and the associated expenditures are billed on the quarterly billing as Labor Hours and Current Billing Period Charges.

Any time that cannot be directly related to an account, (such as billing and accounting work) will be charged to a special account number. The Accounting Office totals these charges for the billing period and divides them equally among all facilities. Even if there are no direct charges, the account may still be billed Administrative Charges.

The Overhead Charges are based on the number of labor hours charged to the account. The overhead charges consist of rent, travel, supplies, training, and personnel services. If there is no labor charged to the account during the billing period, there will be no overhead charges for that billing period with the exception of the last month of each fiscal year. This is due to the fact that the labor charges end June 30 for the current fiscal year. However, several kinds of overhead charges such as supply orders and travel expenses are paid after the fiscal year ends. The State Water Board Accounting Office keeps track of these charges and distributes them back to all of the accounts based on the number of hours charged to each account for the whole fiscal year that has just ended. Therefore, the quarterly statements for the last month of the fiscal year could show no labor hours charged for the billing period, but some overhead charges could be charged to the account.

The hours charged to an account are totaled each month by the employee and reported on a monthly timesheet. The timesheets are submitted to the Accounting Office and entered into the automated accounting system, which computes the Labor and Overhead Charges based on the hours reported.

The monthly expenditure information for the billings are taken from monthly automated accounting reports. A running balance on each of the accounts is kept on fee history sheets in each of the site files. The information is extracted from the accounting report and the fee history sheet to produce the statement, and two copies of the statement are sent to the responsible party. If a balance is owed, a check is to be remitted to the Accounting Office with a copy of the statement within 15 days after receipt of the bill. The Accounting Office sends a report of payments to the Fee Coordinator to be included in the files.

Copies of the billings will be sent to the appropriate Regional Water Boards so they will be updated on the accounts, if the responsible party has any questions. If the responsible party becomes delinquent in their quarterly payments, oversight work will cease immediately. Work will not begin again unless the payments are brought up-to-date.

A detailed description (daily log) of the actual work being done at each specific site is kept by each employee in the Regional Water Board who works on the cleanup oversight at the property. Upon request, these logs are provided to the responsible party by the Regional Water Board staff. They will not be included in the bi-monthly billing statement.

After the cleanup is complete, the account can be removed from the active billing system by the Regional Water Board submitting the appropriate form to the Fee Coordinator. If a balance is due, the Fee Coordinator will send a final billing for the balance owed. The responsible party should then submit a check to the Accounting Office to close the account. The account is removed from the active billing list and will no longer be billed.

No cleanup oversight will be performed unless the responsible party of the property acknowledges in writing that he/she is willing to reimburse the State for appropriate cleanup oversight costs. As soon as the acknowledgment is received, the account will be added to the active SLIC Cost Recovery billing list and oversight work will begin. Signing the acknowledgment does not constitute any admission of liability. Any questions regarding the billing process, billing statement or charges should be directed to the Regional Board's staff.

GeoTracker Database Information

The GeoTracker data warehouse and geographic information system (GIS) provides online access to environmental data. It is used to plot UST site and monitoring well locations and track regulatory information about UST facilities, Spills, Leaks, Investigations, and Cleanup (SLIC) sites, and public drinking water wells, and in the future will include other types of cleanup and investigation sites, including Department of Defense (DoD), Landfill, and Aboveground Storage Tank facilities. GeoTracker uses commercially available software to allow users, including the public, to access data over the Internet. Case information can be graphically displayed as a layer on GeoTracker, includes highways and roads, topographic maps, surface water boundaries, watershed boundaries, groundwater basins, and hydrologic vulnerability areas by entering a site address, partial site address, or site name. Legislation which became effective on September 1, 2001 requires the submission of electronic laboratory data.

GAMA - Groundwater Ambient Monitoring & Assessment Program

GeoTracker GAMA is an online groundwater information system that gives you access to water quality data and connects you to groundwater basics and protection information. This online database integrates groundwater quality data from multiple sources, which are searchable by chemical or location with results displayed on an interactive Google maps interface.

Public Reports

The following links provide public information that is available.

Paperless Office Information

The Regional Water Board is implementing a Paperless Office system to reduce our paper use, increase efficiency and provide a more effective way for our staff, the public and interested parties to view water quality documents in electronic form.

Effective April 1, 2014, please provide all regulatory documents, submissions, materials, data, and correspondence via email or on disk (CD-ROM or CD) in a Portable Document Format (PDF) file in lieu of paper-sourced documents. Documents submitted through GeoTracker are not required to be re-submitted to our paperless office mailbox:

Questions or Comments

State Water Board Contact Information:

Regional Water Board Contact Information:

Additional Regional Water Board Contact Information