Timber Operations

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) has been active in regulating discharges from logging and associated activities since 1972. Our role in regulating discharges from timber harvesting activities is consistent with the abundance of timber and water resources in the North Coast Region. The North Coast Region includes 12 percent of the State's land area, yet produces 48 percent of the private timber harvested within the State and 40 percent of the State's total runoff.
The Regional Water Board is responsible for enforcing the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (Act) as well as the Water Quality Control Plan for the North Coast Region (Basin Plan). The Act and the Basin Plan prohibit the discharge of materials that adversely affect the beneficial uses of the waters of the State. The Regional Water Board has the authority to take enforcement action, ranging from staff level enforcement actions to issuing administrative civil liabilities (fines) against persons who violate the Act or the Basin Plan.

Timber harvesting activities with the greatest potential to impact waters of the State include: felling, yarding, and hauling of trees; road construction and reconstruction; watercourse crossing construction, reconstruction, or removal; and herbicide applications. Excessive vegetation alteration, soil erosion, and sediment delivery associated with these activities can impact the beneficial uses of water by: 1) silting over fish spawning habitats; 2) clogging drinking water intakes; 3) filling in pools creating shallower, wider, and warmer streams, and increasing downstream flooding; 4) creating unstable stream channels; and 5) losing riparian habitat and function. Timber harvesting in the riparian zone can adversely affect stream temperatures by removing stream shading, especially important for maintaining cold water beneficial uses in temperature impaired waterbodies.

Timber harvest activities occur on both public and private lands within the North Coast Region. For private lands, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is the lead agency responsible for regulating timber harvesting under the California Forest Practice Rules (FPRs). The State Water Board, State Board of Forestry, and CAL FIRE entered into a Management Agency Agreement (MAA) in 1988 for overseeing water quality protection on Timber Harvest Plan (THPs). Under the MAA, the Regional Water Board is a responsible agency and plays an advisory role.

The FPRs require the submission and approval of a THP prior to starting most timber operations. Once a THP is submitted to CAL FIRE, Regional Water Board staff review the plan as a "Review Team" member, along with the Department of Fish and Game, California Geological Survey, and CAL FIRE.
The California Water Quality Control Board - North Coast Region (Regional Water Board) has two roles in the review of timber harvest plans, Non-industrial Timber Management Plans (NTMPs), and other commercial timber harvest projects on private lands:

  • The Regional Water Board issues permits, referred to as Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) and Waivers of WDRs (Waiver), which establish conditions or requirements to control discharges of waste to waters of the State. Discharges associated with timber harvesting activities typically include sediment from erosion and/or increased water temperature from loss of riparian canopy.
  • As a member of the CAL FIRE Review Team the Regional Water staff also participates in a pre-harvest inspections and submits comments and recommendations to CAL FIRE to protect water quality and to avoid violations of Regional Water Board regulations.

Following plan approval by CAL FIRE, and prior to beginning timber harvest activities, landowners must apply for coverage under the General WDRs (Order No. R1-2004-0030), the Categorical Waiver (Order No. R1-2014-0011) the NTMP General WDRs (Order No. R1-2013-0005), an individual waiver or WDR, or in some cases a Watershed-wide WDR. Please click on the links provided above for additional information regarding water quality permitting options.

Regional Water Board staff may also perform the following activities to protect the beneficial uses of water and regulate timber harvest activities: attend active and post-harvest inspections of approved plans; review Habitat Conservation Plans and Sustained Yield Plans; perform and review watershed analyses; participate in meetings of the Board of Forestry and CAL FIRE; take enforcement actions and investigate complaints; assess conversions of timber lands to other land uses; and participate in TMDL development and implementation.

Most of the public lands involved in timber harvest activities within the North Coast Region are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The State Water Board and the USFS entered into a Management Agency Agreement (MAA) in 1981 for overseeing water quality protection on National Forest System lands, including timber sales. The MAA requires the USFS to implement approved best management practices for water quality protection. In October 2015, the Regional Water Board adopted Order No. R1-2015-0021, 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, and the associated Monitoring and Reporting Program. This order replaced a previous 2010 waiver (Order No. R1-2010-0029). The USFS must seek coverage under the 2015 Waiver prior to beginning timber harvest activities. Regional Water Board staff provide comments and conduct inspections on proposed timber sales and other projects.