Welcome to the State Water Resources Control Board - Los Angeles Welcome to the California Environmental Protection Agency

Tools for Water Quality Protection


The Basin Plan

The basic policy document for the Regional Board is the "Water Quality Control Plan/Los Angeles Region," also known as the "Basin Plan."  This document designates beneficial uses of waterbodies, sets water quality objectives to protect the uses, addresses localized water quality problems, and lays out a plan for water quality protection.  This document is updated on a regular basis.  Basin Plans are amended only after the public has had ample opportunity to provide input and receive feedback.  Amendments to the Basin Plan must be approved by the State Board, the State Office of Adminstrative Law, and in some cases, the US EPA, before they become effective.



Individual Permits

The Regional Board issues individual permits/waste discharge requirements for many of the activities mentioned above. Once a discharger has submitted a completed application to the Board, staff drafts a tentative permit and circulates it to interested parties.  Within certain limits, the details of the permit can be modified based on comments from the discharger or others.   If all interested parties agree on the details, the permit will be presented to the Board as an uncontested item.  The Board adopts the vast majority of these items without discussion.  If interested parties and staff cannot agree on the details of the permit, then it is taken to the Board for a public hearing, where Board members decide on the final requirements in the permit.  The permits set limits on what may be discharged, and may contain time schedules for future activities such as upgrading treatment systems.


General Permits

General permits are used to regulate polluted storm water runoff, treated groundwater, non-hazardous soil disposal, and other discharge.  When a general permit is initially adopted or amended, the process is similar to the one described for individual permits.   Storm water permits do not contain effluent limits (except for certain industrial categories), rather they require certain practices by implemented by the discharger to control strom water pollutants.


Cleanup Orders

Cleanup orders can order or direct cleanup of pollution or threats of pollution from activities such as spills, leaks (e.g., from storage tanks), or past disposal practices (whether or not they were legal at the time of disposal).


DOD/DOE Program

This program is involved in the cleanup of federal facilities owned or operated by the Department of Defense (DOD) or the Department of Energy (DOE).  The lead state agency in these cleanups in usually the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), with the Regional Board taking a supporting role.  In those cases where DTSC is the lead, public involvement will be coordinated through it.  Where the Regional Board is the lead, cleanup will be regulated as described in this brochure.


Water Quality Certifications

Water quality certifications apply to filling and dredging projects (see activities 9 and 10 from previous list). These include residential and commercial developments along with flood control and debris basin maintenance. For small projects, the Board can waive certification, if after reviewing the proposed project, staff determines that water quality standards will be met.

For larger projects, and for those where standards will not be met, the Board may either recommend that certification be granted with conditions or denied.  The State Board's Executive Director makes final certification decisions, usually following the Regional Board's recommendations.  If certification is denied, the project cannot proceed.

The Board has many of the same concerns as the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead regulatory agency in fill and dredging matters.  However, the Board looks beyond the Corps' immediate jurisdiction to assure that water quality standards are met.  For example, the Board will consider the nature of runoff from surrounding areas and what impact it could have on existing or created wetlands and associated waterbodies, and may require measures to control that runoff.


13267 Letters

"13267" refers to a particular section of the California Water Code.   Letters written pursuant to this section allow the Board to require businesses or other parties to submit technical reports on water quality matters.  The law requires that the request for information be reasonable.  The Board often uses these letteres at the start of a cleanup case in order to get sufficient information to prepare appropriate orders.  Compliance with these requests is mandatory, and non-compliance can lead to penalties.



Most programs have fees associated with them that are charged to the discharger.   Permits have annual fees ranging from $250 to $10,000.  Water Quality Certifications require a filing fee ranging from $500 to $10,000. The Board can recover staff costs for the investigation and supervision of cleanups.



All permits and cleanup orders will require the discharger to monitor the site and its discharge.  Orders will specify the kind of monitoring necessary, which can range from simple visual observations to extensive chemical analysis of waste waters and the receiving waters.



All permits require the facility to submit periodic monitoring reports to the Regional Board.  Dischargers must also report on compliance with time schedules contained in orders.  Finally, dischargers must report any incident that could impact water quality, such as spills or permit violations.  Reports filed with the Board are available to the public.



Board staff routinely inspect sites regulated by the Board.  These inspections normally include observing the site, reviewing records such as pollution prevention plans, and/or sampling to verify the self-monitoring results reported by the facility.

Staff will also inspect other sites not covered by permits if there is a possibility the site may impact water quality. Staff may also conduct inspections in response to complaints or spill reports.



Whenever there is a violation of a permit condition, or a violation of a water quality standard as an unpermitted
facility, the Regional Board can take enforcement action.   Water quality standards are numerical or descriptive objectives for the beneficial uses to be protected.  Therefore, any discharge that impacts the use of a waterbody such as a source of drinking water or fish habitat, or exceeds an objective, would violate standards and, therefore, be enforceable.  The Board has several enforcement options, including orders, fines, or judicial referrals.

For short-term cleanups, requiring immediate action, such as after a spill, an erosion problem, or a waste pond overflow, the Board uses Cleanup and Abatement Orders (CAO).   A CAO is usually issued directly by the Board's Executvie Officer without negotiations or public hearings.  The order lists specific actions that must be done by the discharger and a time schedule for those actions.

The Board can also issue a Cease and Desist Order for permit violations.  This type of order is prepared by staff, with some option for negotiations available.  The Board makes final decisions at a public hearing.  These orders usually include time schedules for specific activities and sometimes set interim permit limits.

The Board has the authority to impose fines, called Administrative Civil Liabilities (ACLs), if a discharger violates permit conditions, standards, or time schedules.   ACLs can also be used for late or imcomplete reports that were required to be submitted pursuant to a 13267 letter.  The amount of an ACL can be based on the volume of an illegal discharge (up to $10 per gallon), the duration of an illegal discharge (up to $10,000 per day), or on the length of time a report is late (up to $1,000 per day). 

To assess an ACL, staff prepares a complaint that notes the violations and proposes a fine.  The discharger can either choose to pay the fine and waive a hearing before the Board, or to proceed with a hearing.  If there is a hearing, the Board can uphold staff's position or raise, lower, or dismiss the fine.  In some cases, dischargers have proposed, and the Board has accepted, environmental projects in lieu of a fine.   In these cases, a portion of the fine may be suspended until the project is completed.  Payment of that portion of the fine may be canceled.  It is Board policy that at least some portion of a fine be paid to the State even if there is an environmental project. Board staff time costs are usually recovered in the fine.

A final option the Board has for enforcement is to refer a case to the Attorney General or a District Attorney for prosecution in the courts.  These kinds of cases can be either civil or criminal, and remedies include fines that are significantly higher than ACLs, injunctions, or in criminal cases, jail sentences.

Citizens may file suit to enforce permit conditions for any federal permit the Board issues.  Under this option, the citizen, or a group of citizens (such as environmental organization), must give 60 days notice of intent to sue.  If the Board takes an enforcement action during that time, it usually negates the citizen action.   If the Board chooses not to pursue enforcement, then the citizen suit can proceed


All actions or inactions by the Regional Board can be appealed to the State Water Resources Control Board.  The State Board can either uphold the Regional Board action, reverse it, send the matter back to the Regional Board with additional instructions, or choose not to consider the appeal.  Any party may appeal a Regional Board action, or inaction, not just the party being regulated.  Appeals must be made within 30 days of the Regional Board's action and can be done by writing a letter to the State Board.


Nonpoint Source Pollution
Nonpoint pollution comes from diffuse sources of pollutants running off the land.   Sources include urban runoff, construction, agriculture, forestry, grazing, boating and other activities.  Some of these are already regulated by the Board, including runoff from some urban, industrial, or construction activities.  Any activity that produes significant water pollution may be regulated by the Board, including enforcement.   However, it is state-wide policy to generally work with potential sources of nonpoint pollution, e.g., ranchers or farmers, to voluntarily solve any problems.   More standard regulation, such as permits and enforcement, is usually only done when the voluntary approach does not work.