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 | 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

Site Cleanup Program (SCP) California State Water Resources Control Board

Cost Recovery (CR) Program

Site Cleanup Program (SCP) California State Water Resources Control Board

GeoTracker Database Information

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.

Questions or Comments

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Regional Water Board Contact Information