California Takes Action to Protect its Waters & Wetlands

April 12th, 2021

Photo: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), John Ciccarelli

Last week, the State Water Board took important action to gap-fill protections for California wetlands and seasonal stream after a recent California court decision had limited the scope of the State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State (Wetlands Procedures) only to federal waters.

The January court decision had placed the Wetlands Procedures on hold for any wetlands or waters that do not fall under the scope of the federal Clean Water Act, leaving thousands of miles of headwater streams, vernal pools, and seasonal wetlands vulnerable without adequate clean water protections.

In response, the State Water Board took important action by adopting a resolution last week to insulate state waters and wetlands from lack-luster protections, finding that:

  • The recent court decision does not restrict the State Water Board’s authority to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material to waters of the state by adopting state policy under Water Code section 13140. 
  • The Wetlands Procedures relied, in part, on Water Code section 13140 (providing the state’s authority to regulate state waters as state policy).
  • The Wetlands Procedures only apply to state waters as state policy, not as a water quality control plan under Water Code section 13170.

This action is needed to insulate California’s wetlands and seasonal streams from the oscillating scope of the federal Clean Water Act by upholding these Procedures, which define seasonal wetlands and streams as state waters – critically covering waters left unprotected by the rollback of the federal Clean Water Act under the last Administration.

And importantly, this resolution recognizes the robust public process used to develop these Procedures, which took over a decade of deliberation between the Board, environmental NGO’s, and regulated industries to develop.

California Coastkeeper Alliance is continuing to track this ongoing litigation as the California courts review and approve the State Water Board’s recent resolution – and importantly, working to bolster water quality protections for the few and degraded wetlands that remain in California with the introduction of Assembly Bill 377, the California Clean Water Act.

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Categories: Happening Now