Site Cleanup Program (SCP)

Program Overview

The Site Cleanup Program (SCP) regulates and oversees the investigation and cleanup of ‘non-federally owned’ sites where recent or historical unauthorized releases of pollutants to the environment, including soil, groundwater, surface water, and sediment, have occurred. Sites in the program are varied and include, but are not limited to, pesticide and fertilizer facilities, rail yards, ports, equipment supply facilities, metals facilities, industrial manufacturing and maintenance sites, dry cleaners, bulk transfer facilities, refineries, and some brownfields. These releases are generally not from strictly petroleum underground storage tanks (USTs). The types of pollutants encountered at the sites are plentiful and diverse and include solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, and fuel constituents to name a few.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and Regional Boards have legal authority to regulate site cleanup via Division 7 of the California Water Code (WC), State Board plans and policies, and the Regional Water Quality Control Plans (Basin Plans). The Regional Boards oversee the dischargers’ (i.e. responsible parties’ (RPs’)) activities pertaining to the cleanup of pollution at sites to ensure that the dischargers clean up and abate the effects of discharges in a manner that promotes attainment of either background water quality, or the best water quality which is reasonable if background levels of water quality cannot be restored, considering all demands being made and to be made on those waters and the total values involved, beneficial and detrimental, economic and social, tangible and intangible. The SWRCB manages the program on a state-wide basis by overseeing the SCP budget, maximizing the collection of debt owed to the State, establishing contracts for special projects, and conducting SCP roundtables with the Regional Boards on a quarterly basis to share information, discuss ways to facilitate procedures and improve the program, and update the regions on any changes or additions to existing procedures. The SWRCB is also at times involved with petitions that are filed by an aggrieved person to review an action or failure to act by a Regional Board, as described in California WC Section 13320. Currently, the Regional Boards actively oversee 3,452 cleanup sites and there are an additional 1,616 sites in backlog that are awaiting Regional Board regulatory oversight (ref.: Geotracker, 07/13/16).


New! The State Water Board, Division of Water Quality, Site Cleanup Unit staff will hold two separate virtual public scoping meetings with the same presentation for a proposed amendment to State Water Board Resolution No. 92-49 (as amended on April 21, 1994, and October 2, 1996) to include requirements for the investigation and assessment of vapor intrusion at cleanup sites statewide. The meetings will provide an overview of the proposed elements of the draft amendment and an opportunity for the public to provide oral and written comments to be considered for inclusion into the draft resolution presented to the State Water Board Members for adoption at a later time and for the development of a Substitute Environmental Document. A formal public comment period and public hearing will also be held before the State Water Board Members regarding the draft amendment at a later date. More information can be accessed through the State Water Board’s Vapor Intrusion website.

NEW! Site Cleanup Program GIS Story platform with interactive maps. The story describes the importance of the program and the program's main roles and responsibilities. The SCP GIS Story also provides information on the current and potential future challenges facing the Site Cleanup Program in protecting California residents and their groundwater resources.

Types of Funding Mechanisms for Cleanup Sites

There are five main types of funding mechanisms for sites in the SCP: (1) voluntary cleanups executed and funded by the discharger, (2) “Cleanup and Abatement Order” cleanups executed and funded by the discharger, (3) cleanups executed by the Regional Board or another public agency, county, municipality, or city and funded by the State via the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA), (4) Site Cleanup Subaccount Program (SCAP), and (5) brownfield cleanup using available grants and loans.

  1. Voluntary Cleanup and Funding
    The majority of SCP sites are voluntary cleanups where the RP voluntarily performs the investigation and cleanup by entering into the SWRCB cost recovery program. Via the authority provided in the California WC Sections 13267, 13304 and 13365, the SWRCB set up the cost recovery program so that reasonable expenses incurred by the SWRCB and Regional Boards in overseeing water quality matters can be recovered from the RP. For a site to be placed in the cost recovery program, a RP must first be identified. The RP agrees to and signs an acknowledgement form stating their intent to pay oversight bills; in return, they receive help from Regional Board staff in cleaning up the site to regulatory standards. An account is set up for water board staff charges, cost recovery invoices are issued quarterly to the RPs, and RP payments are returned to the CAA.
  2. Obligatory Cleanup and Funding Via the Issuance of a “Cleanup and Abatement Order”
    Sometimes, a cleanup and abatement action is taken by the Regional Board to bind the RP to clean up the release. California WC Section 13304 authorizes the SWRCB to issue a “cleanup and abatement order” (CAO) requiring a discharger to cleanup and abate waste, “where the discharger has caused or permitted waste to be discharged or deposited where it is or probably will be discharged into waters of the State and creates or threatens to create a condition of pollution or nuisance.” In cases where a CAO is issued, the Order provides the basis for reimbursement of SWRCB and Regional Board oversight costs.
  3. Funding of Cleanup using the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA)
    There is a third type of cleanup site overseen by the SCP where funding for site cleanup and oversight is obtained from the CAA. The CAA is funded by monies: (a) appropriated by the Legislature; (b) contributed to the CAA by any person and accepted by the SWRCB; (c) collected as part of criminal penalties and all moneys collected civilly under any proceeding brought pursuant to any provision of Division 7 of the California WC; and (d) recovered pursuant to California WC Section 13304. The State Water Board, the Regional Water Boards, and any public agency with the authority to clean up waste or abate the effects of a waste on waters of the state may utilize the account. Generally, CAA funds are provided for the emergency cleanup or abatement of a condition of pollution where there are no viable responsible parties (RP) available to undertake the work.
  4. Site Cleanup Subaccount Program (SCAP)
    The SCAP is a relatively new funding program established in 2014 by SB 445 (Hill, 2014). It allows the State Water Board to issue grants for projects that address the harm or threat of harm to human health, safety, and/or the environment from polluted surface water and/or groundwater.
  5. Funding using Grants and Loans for Brownfield Sites
    Brownfields are underutilized properties where reuse is hindered by the actual or suspected presence of pollution or contamination. Cleanup and redevelopment of these sites benefit the environment and communities by eliminating pollution and contamination problems, allowing economic growth, and revitalizing neighborhoods. Refer to the SWRCB Brownfields Website for the various grant and loan programs that are available to help assess and cleanup brownfield sites in California.

Applicable Regulation

California WC Section 13001 Legislative intent - it is the intent of the Legislature that the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and each Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) act as the principal state agencies with primary responsibility for the coordination and control of water quality.

California WC Section 13304 Cleanup and Abatement - it is required that any person who has discharged or discharges waste into waters of the state in violation of any waste discharge requirement or other order or prohibition issued by a Regional Water Board or the State Water Board, or who has caused or permitted, causes or permits, or threatens to cause or permit any waste to be discharged or deposited where it is, or probably will be, discharged into the waters of the state and creates, or threatens to create, a condition of pollution or nuisance may be required to clean up the discharge and abate the effects thereof.

California WC Section 13365 Billing, cost recovery, requirements - the adoption of a billing system for the cost recovery of investigation, analysis, planning, implementation, oversight, or other activity performed by SWRCB and Regional Boards related to the removal or remedial or corrective action of a release of a hazardous substance.

California WC Section 13267 Investigations; inspections - A regional board, in establishing or reviewing any water quality control plan or waste discharge requirements, or in connection with any action relating to any plan or requirement authorized by this division, may investigate the quality of any waters of the state within its region. The regional boards can require that responsible parties investigate the discharge and threatened discharge of toxic pollutants.

Applicable Policies and Procedures

Resolution 92-49 - adopted at a meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board held on June 18, 1992, and amended at meetings of the State Water Resources Control Board held on April 21, 1994, and October 2, 1996, describes the policies and procedures for investigation and cleanup and abatement of discharges explained in California WC Section 13304. The resolution also provides detailed information on when the establishment of a containment zone is appropriate and consistent with the maximum benefit to the people of the State. It also provides the requirements of establishing and maintaining a site's containment zone.

Resolution 88-63 (also known as Sources of Drinking Water) "All surface and groundwaters of the State are considered to be suitable, or potentially suitable, for municipal or domestic water supply..."

Resolution 68-16 (also known as the Antidegradation Policy) - protects water bodies where existing quality is higher than necessary for the protection of beneficial uses. Under the Antidegradation Policy, any actions that can adversely affect water quality in all surface and ground waters must (1) be consistent with maximum benefit to the people of the State, (2) not unreasonably affect present and anticipated beneficial use of the water, and (3) not result in water quality less than that prescribed in water quality plans and policies.

Regional Board Basin Plans - designed to preserve and enhance water quality and protect the beneficial uses of all regional waters. Specifically, Basin Plans designate beneficial uses for surface and ground waters, set narrative and numerical objectives that must be attained or maintained to protect the designated beneficial uses and conform to the state’s Antidegradation Policy, and describe implementation programs to protect all waters in the Region. In addition, Basin Plans incorporate by reference all applicable State and Regional Board plans and policies and other pertinent water quality policies and regulations.

Site Cleanup Database

The Geotracker database is the storehouse of site information for sites that the Regional Water Boards oversee; the database also stores information for cleanup sites that are overseen by cities, counties, and health agencies in the State. To find a site, enter the site name or city in the search field shown, and click on the box shown on the map that is displayed that corresponds to the desired location. The advanced search tool can be used to display the site(s) of interest using search criteria such as global identification, site/facility name, address, city, zipcode, county, site/facility type, cleanup status, and Regional Board.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) database, Envirostor, is similar to the Water Boards’ Geotracker and can also be accessed to view cleanup sites; the database contains sites that are primarily overseen by DTSC.

Regional Board SCP Websites

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Program Managers & Contacts