State Water Resources Control Board Finalizes New Statewide Restoration General Water Quality Certification Order
In late 2022, the California State Water Resources Control Board issued its long-awaited Statewide Restoration General Water Quality Certification Order (SRGO). The SRGO is part of the State’s Cutting the Green Tape Initiative, aimed at simplifying and speeding regulatory review and approval for much-needed habitat restoration. Delivery of more restoration is crucial for the State to meet its ambitious conservation goals identified in its 30×30 Program, EcoRestore initiative, Central Valley Flood Protection Program Conservation Strategy, Climate Adaptation Strategy and more – all of which rely on locally proposed habitat improvement efforts.
For qualifying habitat restoration and multi-benefit restoration projects proposed anywhere in California, the SRGO provides Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, Waste Discharge Requirements, and CEQA compliance through a certified Programmatic Environmental Impact Report. Complementing the Water Board’s existing 2013 Water Quality General Order for Small Habitat Restoration Projects under 500 linear feet or 5 acres of project impact, the 2022 SRGO now provides Section 401 authorization for projects that exceed the size limits of the 2013 General Order. Since the 500 linear foot limitation excluded many beneficial habitat enhancement projects, this new permitting tool without size limits is anticipated to be widely used by project applicants.
This SRGO covers 10 broad project types aimed at improving habitat and water quality:
1. Improvements to stream crossings and fish passage
2. Removal of small dams, tide and flood gates and legacy structures
3. Bioengineered bank stabilization
4. Restoration and enhancement of off-channel and side-channel habitat
5. Water conservation
6. Floodplain restoration
7. Removal or remediation of pilings and other in-water structures
8. Removal of non-native terrestrial and aquatic invasive species and native plant revegetation
9. Establishment, restoration and enhancement of tidal, subtidal and freshwater wetlands
10. Establishment, restoration and enhancement of stream and riparian habitat and upslope watershed sites
To meet SRGO eligibility, a project must be voluntary (compensatory mitigation projects are not eligible) result in a net increase in aquatic or riparian resource area functions and/or services through implementation of the eligible project types, relevant general protection measures, and consideration of design guidelines. Thus, multi-benefit projects such as those designed to reduce flood risk (Project type 6), provide public access and recreational opportunities, enhance water supply, or other complementary benefits may be eligible so long as the project meets the SRGO requirements and minimizes adverse impacts to water quality.
Preparing Your Successful Project Application
Applicants with a project that could potentially qualify for the Water Board’s SRGO need to plan for a pre-application meeting with the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) at least 30 days before submitting a Notice of Intent for the project. This is an opportunity to present a concept proposal or draft design to Regional Board staff which will determine eligibility for the SRGO, and to jointly consider potential issues or project changes that may be needed.
What is the Advantage for a Potentially Eligible Project?
The Regional Board will review the complete SRGO project application and provide approval (if appropriate) in 30 days – as compared to several months or longer for a standard Section 401 Water Quality Certification. Further, the Section 401 SRGO is coordinated with other new, efficient permits and review processes for restoration and multi-benefit projects, including two exemptions under the California Environmental Quality Act, California Endangered Species Act permits, and federal programmatic biological opinions for Section 7 consultation.
Early permit planning, when design concepts are being developed and funding assembled, is the key to successfully navigating the SRGO and related regulatory processes.
How we Can Help
For more information or support with your project application, contact WRA’s Restoration Permitting Specialist, Erik Schmidt (firstname.lastname@example.org) or send us a message on our contact page.