San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board

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The San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board monitors and regulates water quality for the following counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Santa Clara (north of Morgan Hill), San Mateo, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano counties [1].In the San Francisco region, management measures for grazing lands, dairies and vineyards constitute an agricultural water quality control program. Although no plans exist at this time for regulation of agricultural discharges in general, a conditional waiver program for vineyard facilities is being developed and approaching final stages in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek Watersheds. A similar conditional waiver program has already been adopted for grazing operations in these watersheds and in the Tomales Bay Watershed.

Vineyard Waiver Program

The Napa River and Sonoma Creek Vineyard Waiver Program will apply to existing and future vineyard facilities and is estimated to affect at least 42,000 acres of vineyard land [2]. Major concerns include diminishing steelhead and salmon populations while both of these waterbodies are on the Section 303(d) list of the Clean Water Act for sediments, pathogens and nutrients. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) exist for sediments and pathogens in these watersheds while TMDLs are currently being developed for nutrients. The Vineyard Waiver program will be used as a regulatory device to attain the sediment load allocations identified in the sediment TMDL [3].


Many vineyard owners and operators will be required to implement the following conditions through the Vineyard Waiver program:

  • Enroll by submitting a Notice of Intent form
  • Develop a Farm Water Quality Plan (a planning series designed to assist with management practice implementation and discharge reduction):
    • Assess lands through inventory and evaluation of natural resources, agricultural lands, pollutant sources and management practices
    • Identify locations for management measure implementation and develop a scheduled plan for implementation
    • Must address erosion control, storm water/peak runoff, roads, sediments, pesticides, fertilizers, nutrients and protection of streams
    • Annual report on the status of the Farm Plan
  • Compliance monitoring and remediation actions if necessary


Currently, the CEQA analysis is being prepared and the draft Conditional Waiver of WDRs is being developed and refined. Stakeholder groups have been meeting since June 2011 and continue to meet to discuss language of the Conditional Waiver draft, fees, support from third-party entities, and compliance strategies. Environmental documentation and public reviews of the Conditional Waiver are expected to be completed by the spring of 2012 [4].

Grazing Waiver Programs

Napa River/Sonoma Creek

On September 14, 2011 a Conditional Waiver of WDRs for agriculutral grazing operations (> 100 acres) was adopted. Similar to the Vineyard Waiver, the waiver for grazing operations implements the sediment TMDL for these waterbodies in addition to the pathogen TMDL. The waiver aims to reduce discharge from these pollutants and protect stream and riparian areas through implementation of management measures [5].

Framework [6].

Conditions of the grazing waiver include the following:

  • Basic visual monitoring
  • Ranch Water Quality Plan
    • Evaluation of resources, existing management practices and facility conditions
    • Development of pathogen and sediment control measures
    • Schedule for management measure implementation
    • Annual progress report submission
  • Routine facility inspections to confirm compliance

Status [2].

The conditional waiver required that owners of grazing lands submit a Notice of Intent (NOIs) by November 15, 2011 to demonstrate compliance with the waiver. As of February 2012, 29 NOIs have been received out of a projected total of 50 NOIs. The San Francisco RWQCB has been collaborating with the Sonoma Farm Bureau, the University of California Cooperative Extension and Resources Conservation Districts to identify and contact ranching operations that have yet to submit an NOI. Stakeholder outreach, education and training has taken place throughout the Fall of 2011 and will continue throughout the Spring of 2012 to notify ranchers of the waiver’s requirements and assist in preparation of Ranch Water Quality Plans that must be completed by November 15, 2012.

Tomales Bay Watershed

On July 8th 2008, a Conditional Waiver was adopted for agricultural grazing operations (> 50 acres) in the Tomales Bay Watershed. Similar to other conditional waivers of the San Francisco region, the waiver implements the sediment TMDL for Walker Creek and the pathogens TMDL for the Tomales Bay Watershed (Tomales Bay, Lagunitas Creek, Walker Creek, Olema Creek). Major concerns include threats to the shellfish industry, recreation and human health. These pollutants are derived from dairies, ranches, residents, septic systems/wastewater, discharges from boats, and wildlife feces [7]. The framework of the Tomales Bay grazing waiver is nearly identical to that of Sonoma Creek and Napa River waiver. Both grazing waivers involve implementation of a Ranch Water Quality Plan that includes management measures implementation, effectiveness monitoring, annual reporting and routine inspections. Specific water quality goals include zero discharges from human waste, coliform bacteria targets and limiting shellfish closures to less than 30 days/year [8].

Organizations Involved

The following organizations are third parties interested in the grazing waiver and in assisting with long-term water quality monitoring: [8]

  • National Park Service
  • California Department of Health Services
  • Commercial shellfish growers
  • Inverness Public Utility District
  • Salmon Protection and Watershed Network

A partnership of organizations has been formed to communicate with ranchers, provide assistance, and bridge the gap between ranchers and regulatory agencies. The partnership includes the following entities: [9].

  • Resource Conservation District, Farm Bureau, and Agricultural Land Trust (Marin County)
  • California Cattlemen’s Association
  • Western United Dairymen
  • University of California Cooperative Extension
  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


As of June 2011, almost all grazing operations in the Tomales Bay Watershed were covered by the grazing waiver as 97% of facilities had submitted NOIs. Notices of Violation and targeted inspections will potentially be used for additional enforcement if necessary [9]. In 2014 and approximately every five years thereafter, evaluations of participation and compliance will take place at specific sites, sub-watersheds and over the entire watershed area [8]. The grazing waiver program has so far been considered a success as extensive technical assistance and grant funding were achieved through networking and collaboration with the partnership and other organizations involved [7].
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