The California Water Code, found Here, established the Water Boards as the primary State agencies for protecting the quality of waters. One way we do this by issuing orders to agencies or individuals whose actions have the potential for polluting the waters of California. We use a variety of remedies when agencies or individuals fail to comply with these orders or with other Water Board regulations. Recent and pending Water Board enforcement.


  • Brian Thompson, CEG, CHG
    San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board
    1515 Clay St., Suite 1400
    Oakland, CA 94612
    Phone: (510) 622-2422
    FAX: (510) 622-2460
    E-mail: Brian.Thompson@waterboards.ca.gov

Why do we do enforce?

  • Protect the beneficial uses of surface and groundwater
  • Prevent pollution from occurring and promote the cleanup and correction of existing pollution.
  • Ensure compliance with Water Board regulations and orders.
  • Protect public health and the environment.
  • Ensure that dischargers who comply with the law aren't disadvantaged by those who don't.
  • Deter potential polluters and provide compensation for environmental damage.
  • Ensure compliance with Water Board regulations and orders.

What are our Enforcement Priorities?

All violations deserve an appropriate response, but Water Board must weigh the relative importance of each violation and determine the most effective enforcement response.  Typically, enforcement is progressive. In other words, we begin with the simplest enforcement remedy, expecting that it will elicit an appropriate response.

  • High Priority Violations are those that pose an immediate and significant threat to water quality, and have detrimental impacts to human health and/or the environment. Violations also involving falsification of information, violations of prior enforcement actions and chronic violators are also are in this category.
  • Medium Priority Violations involve moderate environmental impacts or failure to submit information or comply with schedules, or involve negligent or inadvertent noncompliance with permits or regulations.
  • Low Priority Violations are likely to be caused by dischargers violating infrequently or for the first time, with minor water quality impacts.

How do we find out about violations?

  • Self-monitoring reports submitted as required by a facility's order.
  • Inspections
  • Direct reporting by a facility
  • Complaints from the public
  • Other spills and complaints can be phoned into our office at 510-622-2369, to the State Office of Emergency Services at (800) 852-7550 or to the Cal/EPA Complaint Page

Past violations and enforcement.

When Will We Enforce?

The Water Board can issue enforcement for:

  • Violating requirements in orders or permits.
  • Unauthorized sewage or chemical spills to surface water or groundwater.
  • Late or incomplete reports.
  • Failure to meet time schedules.
  • Failure to pay fees, penalties or to apply for a permit.
  • Falsifying or withholding information.

What are the types of enforcement?

  • Water Board staff may verbally warn dischargers about actual or potential pollution, or issue Notices of Violation.
  • We can request investigations and reports from those who discharge, or may discharge pollutants, per Water Code Section 13267.
  • We can issue orders requiring dischargers or potential dischargers to cleanup up the waste or to take remedial actions to prevent the discharge, such as Cleanup and Abatement Orders, Cease and Desist Orders or Time Schedule Orders.
  • We can impose a monetary assessment known as an Administrative Civil Liability (ACL). ACLs are authorized for all types of violations listed above. We issue a complaint, stating the violations and proposing a liability. The Water Code and our enforcement policy (http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/enforcement/index.html) give guidance on the factors, such as the severity of the violations, degree of culpability, prior history, past attempts at cleanup, and any economic benefit, which affect the amount of the liability. Dischargers can waive their right to a hearing and pay, or contest the matter. They can also propose to satisfy some of the monetary assessment by completing a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP), intended to improve beneficial uses or provide a benefit to the public. Money collected through ACLs goes to the Water Board's Cleanup and Abatement Account, which can then be used to cleanup pollution at other sites.
  • Portions of the Water Code establish a mandatory minimum liability (MMP) of $3,000 per certain discharge limit violations for facilities discharging to surface waters. The procedures for complaint issuance and resolution are similar to a regular ACL. An MMP is a specific type of ACL, and an MMP is non-discretionary. An ACL of a larger amount may be issued instead of an MMP, if the situation warrants a higher penalty. 
  • District Attorneys, the USEPA or the State Attorney General can seek civil or criminal penalties for many of the same violations as the Water Board. The Water Board can refer matters where there is suspected criminal activity, or if a discharge involved several other agencies. In addition to criminal sanctions and higher levels of penalties, these parties can use other enforcement and investigatory tools not available to the Water Board.

Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP)

Any public or private party may submit a proposal to the Water Board for a SEP. Any portion of the liability not paid into a SEP is instead paid to the Cleanup and Abatement Account. If the SEP is not completed to the satisfaction of the Water Board, all of the suspended liability must be paid into the Cleanup and Abatement Account. The SEP must include adequate timetables and accounting, typically administered by a third party. Generally, SEPs must:

  • Be chosen by the discharger, either though the Water Board's list or on their own
  • Go above and beyond the normal obligations of a discharger.
  • Directly benefit or study groundwater or surface water.
  • Not benefit the Water Boards or staff.
  • Have a connection with the beneficial uses, spill type or location of the violations.

The list of potential projects is available on the San Francisco Estuary Partnership website

How to add a project to the list: Contact Darcie Luce of San Francisco Estuary Partnership, darcie.luce@sfestuary.org or (415) 778-6673.

Appeal Process

For all forms of enforcement, the public can review enforcement actions and penalties, comment on them before issuance, and appeal our action (or failure to act) to the SWRCB within 30 days following the action.

Enforcement Reports

For reports on statewide enforcement efforts, see Enforcement Reports on State Water Resources Control Board's website.

For information on pending enforcement cases in the San Francisco Bay Region, go to the Decisions Pending and Opportunities for Public Participation webpage

For information on past enforcement actions in the San Francisco Bay Region:

  • Use search and public reporting functions in the CIWQS, SMARTS, and GeoTracker databases;
  • Review enforcement items listed in San Francisco Bay Water Board meetings (see the Board Info tab, Agenda page)
  • Review San Francisco Bay Water Board decisions (see the Board Info tab, Orders page)

For information on penalty assessments:

  • Search cases or use public reporting functions in the CIWQS database;
  • Read the enforcement item section in monthly Executive Officer's Reports, included in Agendas for San Francisco Bay Water Board meetings (see the Board Info, Agenda page)
  • Review summaries of statewide Administrative Civil Liability (ACL) and Mandatory Minimum Penalty (MMP) enforcement included in Office of Enforcement Executive Director's Reports (provided below)