Harman Patil

Porter Cologne Water Quality Control Act

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Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act

The Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act is the state law that expanded the enforcement authority of the water boards. This allowed them to better protect water rights and water quality. It allowed for California Environmental Protection Agency to create the State Water Resources Control Board along with 9 Regional Water Quality Control Boards.



The Porter-Cologne Act also known as the California Water Code, Section 7 was created in 1969 and is the law that governs the water quality regulation in California. It was established to be a program to protect the water quality as well as the beneficial uses of water. This act applies to surface water, groundwater, wetlands and both point and nonpoint sources of pollution. There are nine regional water boards and one state water board that has resulted from this act. The act requires the adoption of water quality control plans that contain the guiding policies of water pollution management in California.


The act uses the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for point source discharges and waste discharge requirements (WDRs) in order to keep people from degrading the water quality of the State. The policy states:

  1. The quality of all waters of the State shall be protected
  2. All activities and factors affecting the quality of water will be regulated in order to attain the highest water quality within reason.
  3. The State must be prepared to exercise its fullest power and jurisdiction in order to protect the quality of water in the State from degradation.

The enforcement of WDRs include

  • cease and desist orders
  • clean up and abatement orders
  • administrative civil liability orders
  • civil court actions
  • criminal prosecutions
  • State Water Resource Control Board

    The State Water Resources Control Board provides guidance and oversight over the nine regional water boards which are based on hydrological barriers. They are also responsible for allocating funds and reviewing the regions decisions in order to make sure that the water quality in the State isn't becoming degraded.

    The regional water boards are charged with implementing its provisions and have primary responsibility for protecting water quality in California. The regional water boards include:

    1. North Coast
    2. San Francisco Bay
    3. Central Coast
    4. Los Angeles
    5. Central Valley
    6. Lahontan
    7. Colorado River Basin
    8. Santa Ana
    9. San Diego

    Water quality control plans

    The Porter-Cologne Act requires the adoption of water quality control plans that give direction to managing water pollution in California. Usually basin plans get adopted by the Regional Water Boards and are updated when needed. The plans incorporate the beneficial uses of water of the State and then provide objectives that will be taken in order to maintain and protect these uses. They can meet these objectives by surveillance and monitoring and the Regional Water Boards have the authority of enforcing this objectives upon violators. Along with the Regional Water Boards, the State Water Resources Board can issue and enforce permits containing waste discharge requirements in order to maintain clean surface water and groundwater from pollution.

    There is a water quality control plan for enclosed bays and estuaries whose objective is to protect the benthic community from direct exposure to pollutants in the sediment. It also seeks to minimize the human health risk due to the consumption of shellfish and fish that may have high levels of toxic contaminants in them. The plan also includes the beneficial uses, their objectives and how these objectives will continue to enhance the water quality.

    Each region has their own water quality control plan (basin plan) that identifies the specific beneficial uses of water in their region for past, present and the future. These basin plans also all have objectives in which the plan clearly states steps that are/will be taken in order to make sure the objectives are met. These objectives are created for the purpose of keep the water clean and safe to use. The plans help to protect the beneficial uses so that they may not become degraded. The surface and groundwater should be protected against adverse effect of waste contaminants. The Regional Board has the authority to give out permits for the purpose of waste disposal or waste assimilation, however the discharges of waste into the water is not a right and is up to the discretion of the Regional Board. They have the authority to authorize when the discharge is to take place, for how long, and how much can be put into the water.

    Clean water programs

    Although our regions have plans that ensure the community that they are working to maintain clean and safe surface and groundwater, there are cities that have taken it upon themselves to implement clean water programs. The California Department of Public Health had a Drinking Water Program that they transferred over to the State Water Resources Control Board to take control. This idea of safe drinking water is the basis for the cities implementing their own clean water programs.

    Oceanside Clean Water Program is set-up to improve the water quality in their local creeks, rivers and oceans and to keep in accordance with the state and regional environmental regulations. The program focuses on education the community, specifically the developers, residents, industrial and commercial companies and the academia about pollution and how they can prevent it from happening. They monitor the water quality, inspect construction sites and perform educational outreaches to their community because they are susceptible to stormwater pollution being a coastal community.

    The City of Del Mar created their Clean Water Program for the purpose of protecting their natural resources such as lagoons, beaches and the Pacific Ocean from urban runoff. They have pollution from dumpsters, improperly stored hazardous materials and equipment so their staff goes out into the community and inspects construction areas, and educates the public of the situation. They even have a toll line and email where the public can call or email if they see specific urban runoff events taking place such as over irrigation, landscaping crews using water hoses to wash down driveways, building materials or dirt coming off the property of construction sites and more.


    The Act has been successful in making sure that the growing market of cannabis farms are not polluting our water ways. Instead of cannabis farms being shut down by law enforcement, in recent years they have been getting hit by fines from the State for not having the required permits to discharge.

    The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board gave a huge fine for water quality violations against a property owner in rural California. The owners failed to get the necessary permits prior to developing the land, and their growing resulted in discharges of highly erodible sediment and the unauthorized placement of filling a tributary. Both of which violates the Clean Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

    The California Control, Regulate, And Tax Cannabis Act of 2016 (ReformCA) allows for protocols to be implemented to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations applicable to cultivating cannabis. This act also incorporates environmental impacts, water quality and supply in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Clean Water Act, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, timber production zones, wastewater discharge permits and any other permit necessary for diverting water.


    Although agricultural runoff is the largest source of pollution in the Central Valley, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act was not implemented by the Central Valley Regional Board back in 1982. Public interest groups have challenged that ruling stating that the action taken by the Board was based on the unsupported assumption that toxic discharge from agriculture did not pose a threat on the environment, or the public and with the assumption that farmers would self-regulate.


    Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act Wikipedia

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