Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification Program

Emergency permitting for fire related projects

For additional information please select from the following links:

Application Packet:

Fee Schedule:

Permitting information

This document 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, streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

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. So if a proposed project requires a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers CWA Section 404 permit, falls under other federal jurisdiction, and has the potential to impact Waters of the State, the Regional Water Quality Control Board will regulate the project and associated activities through a Water Quality Certification determination (Section 401).

State Permits

However, if a proposed project does not require a federal permit, but does involve dredge or fill activities that may result in a discharge to "Waters of the State", the Regional Board has the option to regulate the project under it's state authority (Porter-Cologne) in the form of Waste Discharge Requirements or Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements. In addition, California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) may regulate the project through the Streambed Alteration Agreement process. DFG issues Streambed Alteration Agreements when project activities have the potential to impact intermittent and perennial streams, rivers, or lakes.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Before the Regional Water Quality Control Board or DFG can issue a permit, the project applicant must provide proof of compliance with CEQA-California Environmental Quality Act. If CEQA is required (i.e. the project is not found to be 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.

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 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.

Water Quality Certification Permit Process

Step 1: Fill out a Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) application available electronically in PDF format, or hard copy. Hard copies will be mailed to applicants on an as requested basis. To request a copy please contact us (see contact information in Step 2). Print out electronic copies, and submit a hard copy to the address provided in Step 2.

Step 2: Send application, additional necessary documents, along with a check for $1201.00 (Base Price) plus additional fees, if applicable, as required according to the CCR 23 Section 2200 (a)(2) Fee Schedule (see fee calculator link above), to:

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

(Make checks payable to: State Water Resources Control Board)

Step 3: Once your application is received you will be notified within 7 working days with a letter stating that your application has been received and is in the process of being reviewed by a staff member.

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 will be sent to you requesting additional items if your application is found to be incomplete.

Step 5: Once the application is deemed complete, reviewing staff will issue a Public Notice, which will be posted on the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board website. The public notice period extends for 21 days. Public comments will be excepted during the notice period, and will be considered during the certification determination process.

Step 6: Regional Board staff have 1 year to make a Water Quality Certification determination once the application is deemed complete. Generally the process takes between 1-4 months, so plan ahead and apply well in advance of the projected project start date. Determinations may include Standard Certifications, Technically Conditioned Certifications, Denial with out Prejudice (i.e. due to lack of CEQA or proof of mitigation credit purchase), or Denial of Certification.

Step 7: Determination is reached regarding issuance of CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects). You will be notified in writing by this office regarding the determination for your proposed project.

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

Step 1: Fill out a Water Quality Certification and/or Waste Discharge Requirements (Dredge/Fill Projects) application available electronically in PDF format, or hard copy. Hard copies will be mailed to applicants on an as requested basis. To request a copy please contact us (see contact information in Step 2). Print out electronic copies, and submit a hard copy to the address provided in Step 2.

Step 2: Send application, additional necessary documents, along with a check for $944.00 (Base Price) plus additional fees, if applicable, as required according to the CCR 23 Section 2200 (a)(2) Fee Schedule (see fee calculator link above), to:

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

(Make checks payable to: State Water Resources Control Board)

Step 3: Once your application is received you will be notified within 7 working days with a letter stating that your application has been received and is in the process of being reviewed by a staff member.

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 will be sent to you requesting additional items if your application is found to be incomplete.

Step 5: Regional Board staff have 120 days to make a determination once the application is deemed complete. Plan ahead and apply well in advance of the projected project start date. Determinations may include Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements or Waste Discharge Requirements, dependent upon the project scope.

Step 6: Final determination is reached regarding issuance of the appropriate permit. You will be notified in writing by this office regarding the determination for your proposed project.