Wetland Riparian Area Protection Policy

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Clean Water Act Section 401 – Certification and Wetlands Program

State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State

In 2019 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). The Procedures consist of four major elements: 1) a wetland definition; 2) a framework for determining if a wetland feature 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.

The State Water Board adopted the Procedures to address several important issues. First, there was a need to strengthen protection of waters of the state that were no longer protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) due to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, since the Water Boards historically relied on CWA protections in dredged or fill discharge permitting practices. Second, there was inconsistency across the Water Boards in requirements for discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the state, including wetlands. Third, there was no single accepted definition of wetlands at the state level, and the Water Boards historically had different requirements and levels of analysis regarding issuance of water quality certifications. Finally, regulations have historically not been adequate to prevent losses in the quantity and quality of wetlands in California, where there have been especially profound historical losses of wetlands.

Final Official Documents

The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved the Procedures on August 28, 2019, and the Procedures became effective May 28, 2020.

2021 Update

On April 6, 2021, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a resolution to confirm that the “State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State” is in effect as state policy for water quality control.

Document Links:

The Office of Administrative Law approved Resolution No. 2021-0012 and minor amendments on November 18, 2021 (OAL Matter Number 2021-1007-02(S)).  As described above, the Procedures went into effect on May 28, 2020. The effective date for Resolution No. 2021-0012 and the minor amendments is November 18, 2021.

Implementation and Training Resources

Related Documents

Documents related to the development of the Procedures are stored by the Division of Water Quality and are available upon request.

  • The Technical Advisory Team (TAT) was formed under a USEPA grant to assist in scientific analysis of specific policy topics.
  • Technical Memorandum 1: Technical Advisory Team Formation and Purpose
  • Technical Memorandum 2: Wetland Definition
  • Technical Memorandum 3: Landscape Framework
  • Technical Memorandum 4: Wetland Delineation
  • Water Boards Peer Review - Proposed Wetland Definition and Delineation Method
  • 2011 December 22 – CRAM Peer Review and Staff Comments
    Rapid wetland condition assessment methods, such as CRAM, are currently under consideration as part of the Phase 1 Wetland Area Protection Policy assessment, monitoring and reporting requirements. For this reason, CRAM was submitted for external scientific review to verify that the scientific findings, conclusions, and assumptions of CRAM are based upon sound scientific knowledge, methods, and practices. Get more information on the State Water Resources Control Board peer review process.
  • Executive Order W-59-93 (signed by Governor Pete Wilson on August 23, 1993) established state policy guidelines for wetlands conservation. The primary goal of this policy is to ensure no overall net loss and to achieve a long-term net gain in the quantity, quality, and permanence of wetland acreage in California. The federal wetlands policy, representing a significant advance in wetlands protection, was unveiled by nine federal agencies on August 24, 1993.
  • Compensatory Mitigation Study
  • The State Water Resources Control Board released a comprehensive study that evaluates the effectiveness of the State's wetland regulatory program. The study found that the permit compliance was generally met, and that overall wetland acreage was being maintained; however, the biological health of the replacement wetlands was low. The study is titled "An Evaluation of Compensatory Mitigation Projects Permitted Under Clean Water Act Section 401 by the California State Water Resources Control Board, 1991-2002" by Richard F. Ambrose and Steven F. Lee of the University of California, Los Angeles, and John C. Callaway of the University of San Francisco.

    • Full Report (available upon request)
  • SWANCC decision - isolated waters information and related documents.

More Information

Staff Contact:

Beth Payne, Senior Environmental Scientist 
Program Lead
Wetlands Permitting and Planning Unit 
email: Elizabeth.Payne@waterboards.ca.gov
phone: (916) 341-5579

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