Nonpoint Source Pollution
What is Nonpoint Source Pollution?
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, also known as polluted runoff, is the leading cause of water quality impairments in California. Nonpoint sources, are major contributors of pollution to impacted streams, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, marine waters, harbors, bays, and ground water basins. Unlike pollution from distinct, identifiable sources, NPS pollution comes from many diffuse sources. It is caused by rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation water that moves over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human- made pollutants and deposits them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, ground water, and other inland and coastal waters. Common sources of NPS pollution include runoff from agricultural activities, including feedlots, grazing and dairies; runoff from urban areas; and erosion from timber harvesting, construction sites, and roads.
The Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act requires anyone discharging or proposing to discharge waste that could affect the quality of waters of the state to be permitted for such a discharge by the Regional Water Boards. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (North Coast Regional Water Board) has several programs to address and regulate nonpoint source discharges and pollution, as follows:
The development and expansion of North Coast Regional Water Board NPS Programs are guided by the Nonpoint Source Program workplan. The workplan is generally updated every five years to reflect current priorities for Nonpoint Source programs. Although the NPS Guidelines required implementation plans with a three to five year planning horizon, the CA NPS Program chose to use a six-year period (e.g., July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2020) for the current California NPS workplan so that subsequent five-year implementation plans would address periods beginning and ending with each decade (e.g., July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2025, July 1, 2025 through June 30, 2030, etc.). The 2014-2020 California NPS Program Implementation Plan can be found at the link below
The North Coast Regional Water Board adopted the Dairy Program on January 19, 2012. It is currently being implemented on approximately 126 dairies, housing about 50,000 cows in the North Coast Region. The Dairy Program covers the management of process water, manure, and other organic materials at dairy operations including the application of such materials to cropland.
The North Coast Regional Water Board adopted the 5C Road Management Waiver on May 2, 2013. The 5C Road Management Waiver provides permit coverage for county road maintenance and associated project activities done as part of the Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program. The 5C Road Management Waiver can also provide permit coverage for road management projects on non-county roads. The 5C Road Management Waiver is available for those portions of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou and Trinity counties located in the North Coast Region.
The North Coast Regional Water Board has been active in regulating discharges from logging and associated activities since 1972. Regulating discharges from timber operations is consistent with the abundance of timber and water resources in the North Coast Region. Staff participate in the CalFire multi-agency Review Team process, including inspections of Timber Harvest Plans and Non-industrial Timber Management Plans on privately owned lands. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has adopted the following types of permits for timber operations in the North Coast Region: 1) General Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs), 2) Waivers, 3) Ownership-wide WDRs, and 4) Watershed-wide permits.
U.S. Forest Service Nonpoint Source Program
The North Coast Regional Water Board has adopted a Waiver to provide permit coverage for timber operations and other nonpoint source discharges, including vegetation manipulation, grazing, roads, recreation, restoration, and fire suppression on US Forest Service and other federal lands. Staff review and inspect proposed projects for compliance with Waiver requirements.
This program regulates discharges of fill and dredged material under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.
This program protects all waters in its regulatory scope, but has special responsibility for wetlands, riparian areas, and headwaters because these waterbodies have high resource value, are vulnerable to filling, and are not systematically protected by other programs. We are involved with protection of special-status species and regulation of hydromodification impacts. The Program encourages basin-level analysis and protection.
Anyone proposing to conduct a project that requires a federal permit or involves dredge or fill activities that may result in a discharge to U.S. surface waters and/or "Waters of the State" is required to obtain a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) from the North Coast Regional Water Board, verifying that the project activities will comply with state water quality standards. Section 401 of the CWA grants each state the right to ensure that the State's interests are protected on any federally permitted activity occurring in or adjacent to Waters of the State. In California, the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (Regional Water Boards) are the agencies mandated to ensure protection of the State's waters.
Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Implementation
Many of the streams in the North Coast Region are listed as impaired under Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act. Most of these impairments, such as excess sediment and high water temperatures, are from nonpoint source pollution. Placement on the 303(d) list triggers an assessment that can lead to the development of a TMDL for the waterbody and associated pollutant/stressor on the list. Literally, the "total maximum daily load" is the amount of a certain pollutant that a specific water body or watershed can assimilate and still be safe for people, fish, and wildlife. The TMDL describes the causes of the impairment and outlines a plan for achieving water quality standards in the impaired water body using the regulatory authorities administered by the Water Boards.
There are several ways to implement the actions necessary to meet a TMDL. These include:
- Regulatory action(s) of the Regional Water Board, such as a permit, waiver, or enforcement order.
- Regulatory action(s) of another state, federal, or local agency.
- Amendments of the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (the Basin Plan), in the form of an Action Plan, which describes the steps that are necessary to meet the TMDL.
- Non-regulatory action(s), such as third party agreements and self-directed pollutant control.
Agricultural Lands Discharge Program
The Regional Water Board is in various stages of developing and implementing a Program to address discharges from agricultural lands in the North Coast Region, with focused efforts on discharges from vineyards, orchards, lily bulbs, marijuana, dairies, grazing, and agriculture in the Scott River, Shasta River, Tule Lake, and Butte Valley watersheds. Individual permitting efforts to address specific water quality concerns from nurseries and other agricultural discharges are also part of the Program. The Agricultural Lands Discharge Program addresses water quality impacts associated with agricultural lands in the Region. Agricultural lands have the potential to contribute to water quality problems through the over-application of fertilizers and pesticides, human-caused erosion of sediment, pollutants in tailwater return flows, and the removal and suppression of riparian vegetation.
Watershed Stewardship Approach
The North Coast Regional Water Board is currently developing a Watershed Stewardship Approach which will result in enhanced capabilities for the Regional Water Board to develop comprehensive and collaborative water quality improvement measures that support all program areas and increase the level of coordination with other agencies, entities, and programs. The initiative is based on defined watershed management areas and is intended to promote collaboration among participants. This approach is already being utilized in varying degrees within the Klamath, Shasta, and Garcia River watersheds.
The webpage for the Watershed Stewardship Approach is currently under construction.
Nonpoint Source Grants and Funding
For information on grants, loans, and funding available for Nonpoint Source pollution control projects, please visit the link below.
(Page last updated 9/8/23)
Water is a precious resource in California, and maintaining its quality is of utmost importance to safeguard the health of the public and the environment.