What is wastewater?
Wastewater is water containing wastes from residential, commercial, and industrial processes. Municipal wastewater contains sewage, gray water (e.g., water from sinks and showers), and sometimes industrial wastewater. Large industries, such as refineries, also generate wastewater. Wastewater requires treatment to remove pollutants prior to discharge.

How do we regulate wastewater?
Wastewater generators must obtain a permit to discharge their wastewater. Pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, we regulate wastewater discharges to surface waters, like San Francisco Bay, through our National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Stormwater is also subject to NPDES regulations, but we regulate it separately. Some wastewater discharges are exempt from federal NPDES requirements, but California law may still apply. Under California law, we require waste discharge requirements (WDRs) for some discharges in addition to those subject to NPDES permits. For example, we issue WDRs for wastewater recycled for reuse and wastewater discharged to land, including on-site treatment systems.

Permits contain specific requirements that limit the pollutants in discharges. They also require dischargers to monitor their wastewater to ensure that it meets all requirements. Wastewater dischargers must maintain their treatment facilities, and treatment plant operators must be certified. We routinely inspect treatment facilities and enforce permit requirements. Many wastewater discharges are permitted individually. However, discharges that are of less threat to water quality and that are similar are permitted through general permits.

The Regional Water Board adopts permits at public hearings after consideration of public comments. To receive email notifications of upcoming comment opportunities, reported. During wet weather, for example, unauthorized discharges can occur from sanitary sewers when too much stormwater flows into manholes and groundwater filters through cracks in collection systems. Sanitary sewer overflows must be reported. We follow up on reports of unauthorized discharges with enforcement as warranted.

What is being done to prevent wastewater pollution?
Preventing pollution at its source is often more efficient than treating polluted wastewater. Our pretreatment program requires municipal wastewater agencies to reduce industrial pollution before it reaches their treatment plants by regulating industries that use their facilities. Similarly, municipal wastewater agencies implement pollution prevention programs to encourage residents and businesses to reduce wastewater pollution.

Have wastewater regulations been effective?
The NPDES program is one of the most successful environmental programs ever implemented. Since the federal Clean Water Act was adopted in 1972, San Francisco Bay water quality has improved considerably.

How can I get more information?
For more information, contact Robert Schlipf at Robert.Schlipf@waterboards.ca.gov or (510) 622-2478.