Tribal Beneficial Uses (TBU) Basin Plan Update


Welcome to the San Francisco Bay Water Board’s Tribal Beneficial Uses Project webpage.  We are a state agency that regulates water quality in the San Francisco Bay Area. A map of our regional jurisdiction is highlighted in orange on this page:

Since time immemorial, California Native American Tribes have used, and in some cases continue to use, water to support their cultural, spiritual, ceremonial, and/or traditional rights. Tribal Beneficial Uses (TBUs) provide a water quality safety measure that considers these specific uses of water by individuals, households, or communities of California Tribes. This webpage explains TBUs and encourages California Tribes and tribal communities to participate in the related basin-planning process with the San Francisco Bay Water Board.

Tribal Beneficial Use Process with the SF Bay Water Board

Step 1: Prioritize Tribal Beneficial Uses in a triennial review of the Basin Plan
Step 2: Gather information for designations - We are at this step
Step 3: Add Tribal Beneficial Use definitions to basin plans and designate waterbodies or parts of a waterbody with TBUs
Step 4: Amend or establish water quality objectives and implementation programs
Step 5: Follow the implementation programs

Throughout this process, we will continue to engage with California Tribes and the public.

Tribal Beneficial Use Timeline with the SF Bay Water Board

  • May 2017: The State Water Board adopted a Resolution that defined three new beneficial uses: Tribal Tradition and Culture (CUL), Tribal Subsistence Fishing (T-SUB), and Subsistence Fishing (SUB).   

    The Resolution No. 2017-0027 did not designate these uses for any specific waterbodies in California nor require that the uses be designated. Regional Water Boards are responsible for designating beneficial uses for specific waterbodies (where the use applies) within their respective regions, and this designation occurs through a Basin Planning process.

  • November 2021: The SF Bay Water Board prioritized the Tribal Beneficial Use Basin Plan amendment as a priority project in the 2021 Triennial Review of its Basin Plan. To learn more, you can read the staff report that outlines the reasons for prioritizing this project and the definition of the project.
  • April 2022: The first TBU Tribal Summit was held.
  • October 2022: The second TBU Tribal Summit was held.
If you are part of a California Native American Tribe in our Region, reach out to the contact below to find out more about the past TBU Summits and attendance at future TBU Summits. If you are a member of the public, the public process will likely begin in 2024.


FAQs for Tribal Benefical Uses

  • What are Beneficial Uses?

      Beneficial uses are goals the California Water Boards designate to ensure Californians have access to the highest water quality and can use it for maximum benefit. There are an array of beneficial uses including, but not limited to: recreation; navigation; and preservation and enhancement of fish, wildlife, and other aquatic resources or preserves.

  • How are Tribal Beneficial Uses Defined?

      The beneficial uses definitions established by the State Water Board in 2017 are the following:

      • Tribal Tradition and Culture (CUL): Uses of water that support the cultural, spiritual, ceremonial, or traditional rights or lifeways of California Native American Tribes, including, but not limited to: navigation, ceremonies, or fishing, gathering, or consumption of natural aquatic resources, including fish, shellfish, vegetation, and materials.
      • Tribal Subsistence Fishing (T-SUB): Uses of water involving the non-commercial catching or gathering of natural aquatic resources, including fish and shellfish, for consumption by individuals, households, or communities of California Native American Tribes to meet needs for sustenance.

      An additional beneficial use was established at the same time that is applicable and available to all Californians, not just California Native American Tribes:

      • Subsistence Fishing (SUB): Uses of water involving the non-commercial catching or gathering of natural aquatic resources, including fish and shellfish, for consumption by individuals, households, or communities, to meet needs for sustenance.

      Adding this beneficial use to the Basin Plan is not included in the SF Bay Water Board Tribal Beneficial Use update process but is being worked on in parallel.

  • What is the Basin Plan?

      Basin Plans are the foundation for the SF Bay Water Board water quality regulatory programs and are regulatory references for meeting the state and federal requirements for water quality control. They provide a plan of actions designed to preserve and enhance water quality and require public participation. Basin Plans contain:

      • Beneficial use definitions;
      • Designated beneficial uses for both surface water and groundwater bodies;
      • Water quality objectives to protect those beneficial uses;
      • Implementation plans that describe the actions necessary to achieve water quality objectives; and
      • Descriptions of the surveillance and monitoring activities needed to determine regulatory compliance and assess the health of the water resources.

      The SF Bay Water Board is required to develop and adopt a Basin Plan (officially, the “Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay Basin”). The SF Bay Water Board reviews its Basin Plan every three years and determine a list of basin-planning priority projects (a process known as the “triennial review”). We implement priority planning projects by amending our Basin Plan. This process is the same for all Regional Water Boards.

  • How is confidentiality considered within the Tribal Beneficial Uses Process?

      Stated as a guiding principles within the California Water Boards’ Tribal Consultation Policy, the California Water Boards acknowledge, recognize, and respect the need and importance, and in some circumstances the requirement (e.g., AB 52 for proposed projects subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”)), for confidentiality regarding places, land, tribal cultural resources, and matters discussed in consultation.

      For this TBU process, AB 52 is not applicable (i.e., this activity is not subject to CEQA). Therefore, it is not subject to the confidentiality and consultation provisions of AB 52. However, measures can be taken to preserve Tribal cultural resources and practices that Tribes require to be protected from public disclosure. For example, the Regional Water Boards do not designate beneficial uses to specific locations per se but instead designate stretches of rivers or creeks or whole water bodies. As a result, there would be no need to specify the exact location of the practice or activity. At the same time, it is important to note that sufficient information may need to be established about particular practices so that planning can properly accommodate the water quality protections necessary to protect the use designation, or to determine whether the beneficial use is an existing use or a probable future beneficial use. In those cases, certain information would be public information and not confidential. A Regional Water Board’s early engagement with Tribes on the designation of waters should include a Tribe’s interest to maintain the confidentiality of traditional and cultural practices at the outset, even if the provisions of AB 52 are not applicable to the basin planning project.

  • What is the role of the SF Bay Water Board and other state or local agencies?

      This table helps explain some of our authority and the authority of other agencies. We have contacts at these agencies and can connect you to where you need to go, even if we may not directly have authority over your concern.


      Who does this?

      SF Bay Water Board’s Relationship

      Planning and permitting land use

      City, County, Special Districts, Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC)

      Water Boards have no authority over this

      Requiring fees to fish or gather food resources from the land

      Parks, Special Districts, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

      Water Boards have no authority over this

      Water rights

      State Water Board – Division of Water Rights

      We permit (or don’t permit) projects that affect Water Quality and develop policy to protect, enhance, and restore water quality

      Provision of drinking water

      Special Districts (East Bay MUD, SFPUC, Contra Costa Sanitary District, etc)

      Division of Drinking Water (a sister agency under CalEPA) regulates the provision of drinking water

      Manage State-owned water infrastructure

      CA Department of Water Resources (DWR)

      DWR is a sister agency under CalEPA that manages State-owned water infrastructure

      Treatment of wastewater

      Public and Private Wastewater Treatment Plants

      We regulate wastewater treatment plants’ discharges to water

  • How can I find out more?
  • Contact

    Xavier Fernandez, Planning/TMDL Program Manager
    (510) 622-5685

      (Page last updated 6/10/24)