Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification Program

Emergency permitting for fire related projects

For additional information please select from the following links:

Permit process for:

Individual 401 Application Packet (updated in 2020):

General 401 or WDRs Applications:

Fee Schedule:

For information pertaining to the 401 Program in the North Coast Region, please contact Gil Falcone, 401 Certification Program Manager, at 707-576-2830 or Gil.Falcone@waterboards.ca.gov

Application questions for Sonoma and Mendocino County projects contact Gil Falcone above. For project application questions in Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Siskiyou Counties contact Ryan Bey at (707) 576-2679 or Ryan.Bey@waterboards.ca.gov

Permitting information

This webpage is intended to assist the public in understanding the rules and regulations regarding proposed projects that may impact "Waters of the State", which are defined as any surface water or groundwater, including saline waters, within the boundaries of the state. Examples of waters of the state include but are not limited to isolated wetlands, coastal wetlands and mudflats, perennial, intermittent and ephemeral streams and rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Do you need a permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board?

If your project is located within or adjacent to waters of the state, and the proposed project may directly or indirectly impact those waters, you are required to apply for a Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects). The rules and regulations apply to all waters of the state, including isolated wetlands and stream channels that may be dry during much of the year, have been modified in the past, look like a depression or drainage ditch, have no riparian corridor, or are on private land. If you have any questions, it is a good idea to call the regulatory agencies in your area for clarification, and to avoid regulatory enforcement actions that may occur in response to proceeding with a project without the appropriate permits. If it is determined that you will need to apply for a Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) see below for instructions and permit process information.

New State Wetland definition and Procedures for discharges of dredged or fill material to waters of the state

Effective May 28, 2020, The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted a State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State (Procedures), for inclusion in the forthcoming Water Quality Control Plan for Inland Surface Waters and Enclosed Bays and Estuaries and Ocean Waters of California. The Procedures consist of four major elements: 1) a wetland definition; 2) a framework for determining if a feature that meets the wetland definition is a water of the state; 3) wetland delineation procedures; and 4) procedures for the submittal, review and approval of applications for Water Quality Certifications and Waste Discharge Requirements for dredge or fill activities. Public information and resources on implementation of the Procedures can be found here: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/cwa401/wrapp.html

Final Official Procedures Documents are here: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/cwa401/docs/procedures_conformed.pdf

Please be aware that these Procedures include newly clarified requirements for the state definition of wetlands, procedures for delineation, regulatory permitting framework including exclusions, additional new application materials required for individual certifications including; alternative analysis requirements, compensatory mitigation requirements and State Supplemental Dredge and Fill Guidelines.

401 Certification

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 are 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 Quality Control Board, verifying that the project activities will comply with state water quality standards. The most common federal permit for dredge and fill activities is a CWA Section 404 permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

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 Board) are the agency mandated to ensure protection of the State's waters. If a proposed project has the potential to impact waters of the state and requires either a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers CWA Section 404 or other federal permit, then the Regional Water Quality Control Board will regulate the project and associated activities through a Water Quality Certification (401).

The type of 401 certification coverage depends on the type of project activity, location, and federal permit issued. Please consult with Regional Board 401 staff if unsure of appropriate permit coverage and application / Notice of Intent. Possible 401 Water Quality Certifications include:

State Permits

If a proposed project does not require a federal permit, but does involve dredge or fill activities that may result in a discharge or threat of discharge to waters of the state, the Regional Board has the option to regulate the project under its state authority (Porter-Cologne) in the form of Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) or Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements. In addition, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) may regulate the project through theLake and Streambed Alteration Agreement process. CDFW issues Streambed Alteration Agreements when project activities have the potential to impact streams, rivers, or lakes.

The type of state permit coverage depends on the type of project activity, impact size and location. Please consult with Regional Board 401 staff if unsure of appropriate permit coverage and application. Possible state permit coverage may include:

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Before the Regional Water Quality Control Board can issue a permit, the project applicant must provide proof of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If CEQA analysis is required (i.e. the project is not found to be Categorically Exempt based on the current CEQA Guidelines), a local or state agency must act as the lead CEQA agency. Under CEQA the Regional Board exercises its authorities to require minimization and mitigation of impacts to "Waters of the State". At a minimum, any beneficial uses lost must be replaced by a mitigation project of at least equal function, value and overall area/length.

Water Quality Certification Permit Process

Prior to this formal process, Regional Water Board staff and managers will participate in meetings and site visits with project proponents to develop project concepts and activities that avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources and when necessary, develop mitigation proposals.

Step 1: Fill out the appropriate Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) application or Notice of Intent (NOI) available above electronically (preferred), or hard copy.

Step 2: Email the draft application or NOI and additional necessary documents (up to 50MBs) to NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov

Please mail a transmittal letter and check for the application fee (Make checks payable to: State Water Resources Control Board), as required according to the CCR 23 Section 2200 (a)(2) Fee Schedule (see fee calculator link above to calculate total), to:

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 576-2220

Email: NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov

Information about paying fees online can be found at https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/fees/index.html#wdr

If emailing an application is not feasible, we will accept a paper hard copy of the application and fee at the address above.

2020 New 401 Certification Rule step: When submitting a draft application for an individual certification request a “pre-filing meeting” with Regional Water Board staff. This meeting provides an opportunity for both the Applicant and Regional Water Board staff to discuss and review the draft application packet, verify water quality impacts and possible mitigation. The pre-filing meeting may be conducted after staff’s initial review of the draft application and can be conducted in the field if appropriate.  

Step 3: Within 30 days of receiving your draft application packet, staff will it to determine whether the application packet is complete (as described in Section 3856 of the California Code of Regulations and Procedures), or if it is incomplete and what additional items are needed to continue the review process. If additional items are required, Regional Water Board staff will contact you in writing requesting specific items. Please note: The Application review process will continue after submittal of the required items to Regional Water Board staff.

Step 4: Once Regional Water Board staff have reviewed the supplemental information and determined it sufficient, they will notify you that the draft application is deemed complete. Reviewing staff will issue a Public Notice that will be posted on the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board website. The public notice period extends for 21 days. Public comments related to water quality will be accepted during the notice period and will be considered during the certification determination process.

2020 New Clean Water Rule: Once the draft application for individual certification is deemed complete, the Applicant should submit a written (email) “request for Clean Water Act section 401 Certification action to be taken within a reasonable time period” to the Regional Water Board staff assigned to the project and to the Regional Water Board (northcoast@waterboards.ca.gov) and to the Project Manager at  the US Army Corps of Engineers District in San Francisco. This request shall include:

  1. The final complete application,
  2. Documentation that the “pre-filing meeting request” was made at least 30 days prior to this final certification action request and,
  3. The statements: “The project proponent hereby certifies that all information contained herein is true, accurate, and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief,” and “The project proponent hereby requests that the certifying authority review and take action on this CWA Section 401 certification request within the applicable reasonable period of time,” required by the new rule.

 

San Francisco US Army Corps District notice of the new rule can be found here: https://www.spn.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices/Article/2377428/special-public-notice-clean-water-act-section-401-certification-rule/

Step 5: The Executive Officer will take action within the reasonable time period dictated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Actions may include signing and authorizing a Water Quality Certification or denying the certification if the application is incomplete or implementing the project would violate water quality requirements.

Step 6: After a determination is reached regarding issuance of CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects), you will be notified by this office regarding the determination for your proposed project and receive a signed copy of the action.

Generally, the entire process (steps 1 – 6) takes between 2 - 6 months, so plan ahead and apply well in advance of the projected project start date.

State Permit Process (i.e. for non-federal jurisdiction projects)

Prior to this formal process Regional Water Board staff and managers participate in meetings and site visits with project proponents to develop project concepts and activities that avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources and when necessary develop mitigation proposals.

Step 1: Fill out the appropriate Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) application or Notice of Intent (NOI) available above electronically, or hard copy.

Step 2: Email the application or NOI and additional necessary documents (up to 50MBs) to NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov .

Please mail a transmittal letter and check for the application fee (Make checks payable to: State Water Resources Control Board), as required according to the CCR 23 Section 2200 (a)(2) Fee Schedule (see fee calculator link above to calculate total), to:

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 576-2220

Information about paying fees online can be found at https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/fees/index.html#wdr

If emailing an application is not feasible, we will accept a paper hard copy of the application and fee at the address above.

Step 3: Within 30 days of receiving your draft application packet, staff will it to determine whether the application packet is complete (as described in Section 3856 of the California Code of Regulations), or if it is incomplete and what additional items are needed to continue the review process. If additional items are required, Regional Water Board staff will contact you in writing requesting specific items. Please note: The Application review process will continue after submittal of required items to Regional Water Board staff.

Step 4: The Executive officer makes a determination once the application is deemed complete. Plan ahead and apply well in advance of the projected project start date. Determinations may include enrollment in Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements or Waste Discharge Requirements permits, dependent upon the project scope.

Step 5: After a final determination is reached regarding issuance of the appropriate permit authorizing work within waters of the state, you will be notified by this office regarding the determination for your proposed project.

Small Habitat Restoration Water Quality Certification process

Additional restoration permitting information can be found here: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/Restoration/

Step 1: If your project is habitat restoration within “Waters of the State” that impacts less than 5 acres and 500 linear feet, occurring over a period of less than 5 years, it may qualify for enrollment into the general 401 Water Quality Certification for Small Habitat Restoration issued by the State Water Resources Control Board in 2013. See this page to read the Certification and all requirements involved with enrollment: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/cwa401/generalorders.html

Step 2: If your project qualifies, then fill out the Notice of Intent (NOI) for the Small Habitat Restoration certification downloadable at the link in Step 1. Hard copies can be mailed to applicants on an as requested basis. To request a copy please contact us (see contact information in Step 3).

Step 3: At least 30 days prior to activities, email the application and additional necessary documents to NorthCoast@waterboards.ca.gov . Please mail a check for the application fee (Make checks payable to: State Water Resources Control Board), as required according to the CCR 23 Section 2200 (a)(2) Fee Schedule (see fee calculator link above check the box for Restoration Projects), to:

North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 576-2220

Information about paying fees online can be found at https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/fees/index.html#wdr

Step 4: Within 30 days of receiving your application, staff will determine whether the application packet is complete, or whether additional items will be needed to complete the review process. A letter or email will be sent to you requesting additional items if your application is found to be incomplete. Staff may request a site inspection to verify project information and jurisdictional determinations.

Step 5: The Regional Water Board may, at its discretion, issue a Notice of Applicability to the applicant, indicating that the project activities are authorized under this Order. If project activities do not qualify for coverage under this Order, a Notice of Exclusion may be issued by the Regional Water Board. Project activities not qualified for coverage under this Order may require an application for individual Water Quality Certification described above.