Federal Lands Permitting

Program Overview

Public lands encompass forty-six percent of the North Coast Region. National Forest System (NFS) lands, administered by the United States Forest Service (USFS), comprise ninety percent of these public lands. The remaining ten percent is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildfire Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Nonpoint Source Discharges Related to Certain Federal Land Management Activities on National Forest System Lands in the North Coast Region,Order No. R1-2015-0021 (2015 Federal Waiver), covers discharges associated with certain nonpoint source activities on federal lands which have the potential to discharge waste that may affect the quality of waters of the state.  Most of the potential water quality impacts associated with covered activities are associated with erosion and sediment delivery or alterations to riparian systems that may reduce shade and affect water temperatures.  Nonpoint source activities covered by the 2015 Federal Waiver include timber harvesting, fire suppression, non-emergency restoration and rehabilitation of burned areas, vegetation management, fuels reduction, road and trail maintenance, road construction and decommissioning, and grazing management activities.  The 2015 Federal Waiver also functions to demonstrate federal land management agency compliance with sediment and temperature total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) in the North Coast Region as well as the State’s Policy for Implementation and Enforcement of the Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program.

The 2015 Federal Waiver and associated United States Forest Service Monitoring and Reporting Program (USFS MRP) rely on existing federal best management practices (BMPs), restoration programs, and monitoring protocols to demonstrate compliance with water quality standards.  Federal agencies are required to actively address legacy sediment sites within project areas to demonstrate reasonable progress towards TMDL implementation and protection of water quality.  TMDL implementation on federal lands includes: legacy sediment site inventories; prioritization and site treatment; retention of natural shade within designated riparian zones; and implementation of BMPs and project specific on-the-ground prescriptions designed to meet the BMPs.

Federal agencies adhere to their own process for project development and approval, which involves compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  During project development, federal agencies contact the Regional Water Board for comments and recommendations.  They generally begin soliciting comments through a project Scoping Letter, followed by release of a draft environmental document for review and comment, a final NEPA document, and a signed decision document.  Regional Water Board staff may conduct inspections of the project area during scoping, environmental document preparation, or during project implementation.  Staff comments generally focus on the project’s ability to comply with the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (Basin Plan), the 2015 Federal Waiver and USFS MRP conditions, and other water quality requirements.  After the federal agency signs the decision they submit a project application for coverage under the 2015 Federal Waiver to the Regional Water Board.

Background

The Regional Water Board has maintained a nonpoint source pollution control program for discharges on USFS lands since 2004.  In 2004, the Regional Water Board adopted the Categorical Waiver for Discharges Related to Timber Harvest Activities on Federal Lands Managed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service in the North Coast Region, Order R1-2004-0015 (2004 USFS Waiver).  The 2004 USFS Waiver was developed in response to the 2004 statewide Policy for Implementation and Enforcement of the Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program which required all nonpoint source discharges in California to be regulated by waste discharge requirements, waivers of waste discharge requirements, or Water Quality Control Plan (Basin Plan) prohibitions to protect water quality.  The 2004 USFS Waiver covered commercial timber harvest activities on NFS lands and contained limited monitoring requirements. 

In 2010, the 2004 USFS Waiver was replaced by the Waste Discharge Requirements for Nonpoint Source Discharges Related to Certain Federal Land Management Activities on National Forest System Lands in the North Coast Region, Order R1-2010-0029 (2010 USFS Waiver) and associated Monitoring and Reporting Program.  The 2010 USFS Waiver expanded the scope of coverage to include a broad array of nonpoint source activities on NFS lands in part to achieve compliance with the numerous TMDL action plans for sediment and temperature impairments in the North Coast Region.  Enrollment of projects and compliance with the conditions of the 2010 USFS Waiver constituted conformance with all TMDL action plans on NFS lands in the North Coast Region.

In 2015, the 2010 USFS Waiver was replaced by the 2015 Federal Waiver.  The 2015 Federal Waiver expanded coverage to include other federal agencies in the North Coast Region.  The 2015 Federal Waiver is currently in effect but will expire in October 2020.  Please see the Development of a New Permit for Federal Nonpoint Source Activities section below for discussion on a short-term renewal of the 2015 Federal Waiver and development of a future permit for nonpoint source activities on federal lands.

Permitting

Development of a New Permit for Federal Nonpoint Source Activities

Please note that all requirements of the 2015 Federal Waiver and associated USFS MRP remain in effect until the next Federal Lands Permit is adopted

Regional Water Board staff are currently developing a new permit for nonpoint source activities on federal lands (Federal Lands Permit).  Development of the Federal Lands Permit will include: modifying several procedural and regulatory aspects of the Federal Waiver and its associated monitoring and reporting requirements; improving the 2015 Federal Waiver’s application to federal lands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service; and conducting an updated and expanded environmental analysis for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Federal Lands Permit and supporting CEQA document are anticipated to be completed and proposed for Regional Water Board adoption by fall 2022

The Regional Water Board adopted a short-term renewal of the Federal Waiver on August 20, 2020.  The intent of this short-term renewal of the Federal Waiver is to allow continued use of the 2015 Federal Waiver while Regional Water Board staff continue to develop the Federal Lands Permit.  A renewal of the 2015 Federal Waiver retains all its provisions, which includes terms, conditions, and the USFS MRP, to protect water quality.

To receive notifications related to the Federal Lands Permit and public participation opportunities, please subscribe to the “Forest Activities on Federal Lands” email list by clicking “Subscribe” in the top right corner of the banner on this webpage.

Please contact Devon Jorgenson at devon.jorgenson@waterboards.ca.gov or (707) 576-2701 or Carley Dunleavy at carley.dunleavy@waterboards.ca.gov or (707) 570-3770 for questions regarding the Federal Lands Permit.

Regional Water Board Federal Waiver Liaison Contact Information

Please contact the appropriate Regional Water Board staff liaison listed below for questions related to Federal Waiver implementation on specific federal lands in the North Coast Region.

United States Forest Service

Bureau of Land Management – Devon Jorgenson, devon.jorgenson@waterboards.ca.gov, (707) 576-2701

National Park Service – Devon Jorgenson, devon.jorgenson@waterboards.ca.gov, (707) 576-2701