USFS Water Quality Management Plan Released for Comment

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) has released a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), including the Initial Study, for a waste discharge regulatory program for National Forest System (NFS) lands around the State. The public review and comment period for the MND and Waiver is from June 10 until July 25, 2011.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the State Water Board will be accepting public comment on three documents: Mitigated Negative Declaration, Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Nonpoint Source Discharges Related to Certain Activities on National Forest System Lands in California, and USFS Water Quality Management Handbook.

The Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) describes and evaluates the potential environmental impacts associated with the Conditional Waiver. The MND establishes that there is no substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before the State Water Board, that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, with incorporated mitigation measures that will avoid or mitigate potential significant impacts. All of the mitigation measures needed to avoid or minimize potentially significant impacts are set out in the MND and incorporated into the Conditional Waiver’s conditions.

Stated in cleared words, the Conditional Waiver notes that activities on Forest Service lands have no water quality impact provided they incorporate mitigation measures to avoid or minimize impacts in accordance with the Best Management Practices outlined in the USFS Water Quality Management Handbook.

By statute,USFS must manage NFS lands for multiple uses, including grazing, logging, mining, water supply, recreation, fire control, vegetation manipulation, and restoration. Activities associated with these uses may generate sediment, increase water temperature, and affect other water quality parameters. USFS has existing mandates, programs, funding, and resources for protecting and restoring water quality, riparian areas, wetlands, and watersheds. This Conditional Waiver is to address nonpoint source discharges related to Timber Management, Road Management, Range Management, Recreation, Off-highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation, Vegetation Manipulation, Watershed Restoration, and Fire Suppression and Recovery.

The Conditional Waiver is being proposed under the Clean Water Act (federal legislation) and the Porter-Cologne Act (California state legislation). Both pieces of legislation govern how the quality of water will be ensured within the State of California.

Basically, the Clean Water Act (CWA) applies to “waters of the United States” and prohibits illegal discharge from a “point source” that could affect water quality. The phrase “waters of the United States” includes surface water (not ground water) and traditionally navigable waters. The phrase “waters of the United States” does not include isolated wetlands or water bodies that lead nowhere.

As a contrast, the Porter-Cologne Act prohibits any discharge that could affect “waters of the state”. The phrase “waters of the state” include ground water and isolated wetlands from point sources and non-point sources.

Point sources are direct sources such as discharge from a factory. Non-point sources are discharge from points where there is no defined source and are generally cumulative from multiple source. Typically, non-point sources are roads.

Document Availability:
Electronic copies of the MND, Conditional Waiver, and USFS WQMH can be downloaded from the State Water Board website: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/nps/wqmp_forests.shtml

The USFS Water Quality Management Handbook (WQMH) has three primary components: Adaptive Management method, Monitoring, and Best Management Practices.  Subsequent postings will provide background information for each component.

 

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