A California Court of Appeal invalidated a wastewater discharge permit issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board that the court found impermissibly delegated to the Board’s executive officer the authority to modify effluent limits under the permit. Malaga County Water Dist. v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, 58 Cal.App.5th 396 (2020).
The federal Clean Water Act and California Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act authorize the State Water Resources Control Board, acting through its Regional Boards, to issue permits for point source discharges of pollutants into waters of the state. Pursuant to that authority, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board originally issued a wastewater discharge permit to the Malaga County Water District authorizing it to discharge up to 0.85 million gallons per day (mgd) of undisinfected secondary treated wastewater from its wastewater treatment facility to onsite discharge ponds. When the discharge permit came up for renewal, Regional Board staff became concerned that Malaga’s discharge ponds lacked the capacity to store 0.85 mgd, and accordingly approved a modified permit subject to a new total effluent limitation of 0.49 mgd. Unusually, the revised permit further provided that the Regional Board’s Executive Officer could approve a “higher flow, up to 0.85 mgd,” if requested by the discharger and supported by its submission of “supporting calculations and documentation” demonstrating sufficient disposal capacity on an average monthly basis.
Malaga challenged the discharge permit as an unlawful delegation of the Regional Board’s permitting authority under the Water Code, which expressly prohibits a Regional Board from delegating to its Executive Officer any powers and duties relating to the “issuance, modification, or revocation” of a discharge permit. Despite finding the dispute to be moot (because the permit at issue had expired and a new permit had been issued), the Court of Appeal determined that the controversy implicated an issue of “great public concern capable of repetition yet evading review,” and thus adjudicated the legality of the effluent verification process described in Malaga’s discharge permit.
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