Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact EPA Pacific Southwest

Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Region 9 Strategic Plan, 2011-14

Water Quality

Water touches every person every day; it is the lifeblood of our communities and our livelihoods. In the arid Pacific Southwest, water is an especially valuable resource that faces many competing demands and challenges. From the headwaters of our watersheds to the depths of our drinking water aquifers, Region 9 is committed to protecting our precious water resources. Consistent with the national water program, Region 9's water quality strategy has two organizing themes: healthy watersheds and sustainable communities. Under healthy watersheds, our focus is on achieving healthy watersheds; restoring impaired waters in priority watersheds and protecting wetlands. Under sustainable communities, our priorities are on developing sustainable infrastructure to protect public health and conserve resources for the benefit of future generations.

For each of these two themes, Region 9's approach to protect water quality and all of water's beneficial uses is two-fold:

    1. Use the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) as regulatory tools to develop effective permits and enforce compliance; and
    2. Coordinate and leverage resources by providing financial and technical assistance towards specific goals that restore water quality.

Looking at the challenges ahead, we take inspiration from ways we are addressing unique issues:

  • In 2012, Region 9 announced the establishment of nation’s largest marine No Discharge Zone, banning large cruise ships and other commercial vessels from discharging their sewage within three miles of the entire California coast. The proposed rule has strong support from the state, other federal agencies, and many citizen groups.
  • In 2010, Region 9 completed a legal settlement with the City and County of Honolulu to upgrade their sewage treatment infrastructure over the next 20-25 years and will protect the world-famous coastal waters and beaches from effluent discharges.

Achieving Healthy Watersheds

Stones Lake Wildlife Refuge

Clean water is essential for human health, recreation, economic productivity, and the survival of our cherished aquatic ecosystems. However, many of our streams, rivers, lakes, and much of our coastline have poor water quality and are polluted. For these waters, states, tribes and EPA conduct extensive studies to calculate the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards by performing a study known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL. TMDLs are typically prepared by the states and require EPA approval. TMDLs are used as a guide for federal, state, and local decisions such as defining permit limits for dischargers and determining appropriate restoration projects and actions that achieve specific pollution reductions needed to restore water quality. The large-scale watersheds discussed below and our Region's remaining wetlands are our top priorities.

San Francisco Bay and Delta

The largest and one of the most ecologically diverse aquatic habitats on the West Coast, providing drinking water for 25 million Californians and irrigation water to 4 million acres of farmland. The estuary's poor water quality reflects the cumulative and interactive effects of pollution, water diversions, habitat degradation and non-native species. Region 9 is working to restore the San Francisco Bay and Delta in the following ways:

  • EPA values public input in the search for balanced solutions to complex problems. An Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued in February 2011 to solicit public input on ways to improve water quality and reduce pollutants:
  • Work with the California Water Boards and other stakeholders to implement TMDLs to reduce loading of pollutants in the Bay and Delta system such as mercury and selenium.
  • EPA will support updating the science and policies of water-quality criteria for toxicity, selenium, methyl mercury, cadmium, nutrients and bio-criteria with the State of California from 2012 – 2014.
  • Work with stakeholder, state, local, and other federal partners to establish a regional monitoring program for the Delta and San Joaquin basin that will provide meaningful feedback and influence water quality improvement efforts.
  • Enforce the CWA through administrative and judicial actions by completing a judicial settlement with East Bay cities requiring replacement of aging sewer pipes in order to eliminate spills from the East Bay Municipal Utilities District's sanitary sewage system. Additionally, in the North Bay, we will monitor improvements being made by Marin County sanitary sewer systems in response to EPA's enforcement orders.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Because of its ecological significance, natural beauty and recreational value, Lake Tahoe is designated an “Outstanding National Resource Water” by the state of California and a "water of extraordinary ecological or aesthetic value" by the state of Nevada. Lake Tahoe continues to be threatened by the impacts of land use, transportation patterns, invasive species, and wildfires. Since 1997, EPA has provided nearly $40 million to Lake Tahoe for projects to control nonpoint source polluted runoff; conduct wetlands planning; develop a watershed improvement program reporting tool and an adaptive management system to guide implementation of the Lake Tahoe TMDL; and initiate urban storm water pollution prevention. Funding sources include the Clean Water Act and the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act.

In 2011, California, Nevada, and the EPA signed a Lake Tahoe TMDL, the scientific effort at the forefront of the campaign to return Lake Tahoe water clarity to historic levels. Region 9 is working to implement the bi-state Lake Tahoe TMDL for fine sediment, nitrogen by directing our collective financial and technical resources to priority scientific studies, outreach and education, and pollution-reduction projects.

Klamath River

Extending 250 miles from Southern Oregon to the California coast, the river was historically the third-largest producer of salmon on the West Coast, and supports Chinook and Coho salmon, cutthroat trout, steelhead and sturgeon. Several tribes rely on the river for subsistence, transportation and ceremony, as they have for thousands of years. These tribes include the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk, Quartz Valley and Resighini Rancheria on the lower stretches of the river in California, and the Modoc and Klamath in the upper basin in Oregon. Klamath River waters are degraded due to excessively warm water temperatures, high nutrient loads and low dissolved oxygen, associated with water impoundments from dams, agricultural diversions, and algae blooms that have contributed to fish die-offs.

Klamath River: Copyright (C) 2002-2005 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, www.californiacoastline.org
Copyright (C) 2002-2005 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project, www.californiacoastline.org

In 2002, a massive die-off of more than 33,000 salmon brought national attention to this historically conflicted area, where tribes, farmers, commercial salmon fisherpeople, wildlife refuges and hydroelectric power generation have competing needs for water. In an effort to resolve conflicts and restore the salmon fishery, two linked agreements - the Klamath Hydroelectric Settle Agreement (KHSA) and the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) - evaluate possible removal of four dams, reallocation of water, and funding for salmon recovery work. Studies and NEPA analysis are underway to inform a March 2012 decision by the Secretary of the Interior on whether to pursue dam removal and restoration work. Additionally, TMDLs to address nutrients, pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia toxicity, and temperature were completed in 2010 for both the Oregon and California reaches of the Klamath River and some of its tributaries. These TMDLs set targets for the mentioned parameters and allocate responsibility for water quality improvement. Going forward, Region 9 will continue to support restoration of the Klamath watershed in the following ways:

  • Region 9 will focus on ensuring responsible parties develop and initiate water quality restoration plans, establish a tracking and accounting program for water quality improvement projects and collaborate on large scale pollutant control programs, such as riparian restoration to help control the temperature of the water.
  • Providing financial assistance to support implementation of the Klamath Basin TMDLs with $200,000 from EPA to assist California and Oregon develop the Klamath Tracking and Accounting Program. This effort has expanded to include other entities including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Willamette Partnership, Klamath Watershed Partnership and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board who are using their own funds, as well as grant funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to support the development of this program.
  • Supporting the Yurok Tribe in their efforts to restore the Klamath River Estuary with a $493,000 grant, and technical assistance for blue-green algae monitoring.
  • Provide input to evaluate the potential impacts of dam removal on water quality and sediment deposition, as well as review and comment on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement under EPA's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) authority. 

Southern California Coast

Critical to California's economy, the Southern California beaches have more beachgoer days (80 million person days per year) than the rest of the country combined. Under the CWA and the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, EPA's goal is to protect the public health and safety of our coastal and other recreational beaches from trash and bacteria pollution. Region 9 is working to protect Southern California's coastal assets in the following ways:

  • Establish TMDLs for Santa Monica Bay, Ballona Wetlands, City of Long Beach, Malibu Lagoon, the Dominguez Channel and Estuary, and others. Under a consent decree, EPA is required to approve or establish TMDLs for these Los Angeles area impaired waters by March 2013. Each TMDL will have different implementation schedules and targets, but is intended to reduce pollutants such as pesticides, bacteria and nutrients to restore water quality to support a healthy ecosystem. The process to restoration is technically and technologically challenging, and will require the cooperation of multiple stakeholders.
  • Assist the Los Angeles Regional Water Board in revising the Los Angeles Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, with a goal of supporting reissuance in 2012. Areas in which the permit will be strengthened include Low Impact Development (LID) performance standards for new and redevelopment, incorporation of numeric and narrative limitations to implement TMDLs for bacteria, trash, metals, and other toxic pollutants, and establishment of more effective monitoring plans to assist in compliance determinations.

Top of page

Protecting Wetlands

a wetland

Next to tropical rain forests, wetlands are the most diverse and productive ecosystems on the planet. In addition to providing habitat for vanishing species, wetlands protect human health and safety through their natural water quality and flood control functions. As losses of western wetlands and streams exceed 90% in many places in Region 9, our focus includes “big picture” approaches to protecting our remaining aquatic resources, from desert streams to coral reefs. In recent years we have provided approximately $1,800,000 annually to states and tribes to develop their wetland programs through improving their monitoring, restoration and regulatory abilities. In addition to our financial assistance, Region 9 is working to protect wetlands in the following ways:

  • Ensuring our wetlands keep their CWA protections. Recent Supreme Court decisions have made CWA authority far less certain, particularly for drier or seasonal watersheds typical in Region 9. Our scientists will review all cases where entities assert that the CWA does not apply to their project to ensure that traditional legal safeguards against pollution are restored or maintained to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Integrating tools and building partnerships on a landscape-scale. We will integrate regulatory and non-regulatory water programs to address the challenges of large-scale developments by promoting mitigation consistent with existing local watershed plans and gaining commitments to stormwater LID best practices as wetlands permit conditions. We will continue our technical support of Sacramento and Placer County efforts to combine species and aquatic resource permitting under a regional conservation strategy, integrating existing programs to impact watersheds for the better and streamline regulatory review.
  • Advancing the science of wetlands health. We will work with our states to monitor and assess approximately 60 wetland sites in California, Nevada, and Arizona as part of the National Wetlands Condition Assessment, and build state technical capacity with the study results. A final report will be issued in 2013.
  • Enforce CWA protections for wetlands through administrative and judicial actions to discourage unpermitted fill of wetlands and protect this scarce resource.

Top of page

Developing Sustainable Water Infrastructure

The future of our homes, industries, and communities depends on the sustainability of our infrastructure. Region 9 is working to support sustainable communities by focusing on our infrastructure on three fronts: coordinating and leveraging resources in priority areas towards sustainable goals, addressing the needs of community drinking water systems, and protecting drinking water aquifers from underground injection.

Coordinating and Leveraging Resources

The majority of water infrastructure in the U.S. was built before 1980, and is not as efficient as current technologies. As energy costs rise, so do the costs of operating water infrastructure, which accounts for 3% of the total U.S. energy use. $600 billion to $1 trillion of federal, state, and private resources will be dedicated over the next 20 years to make critical improvements to water infrastructure. Of this, Region 9 administers about $240 million in State Revolving Funds annually to renew and repair drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Our goal is to coordinate and leverage federal and state water infrastructure funding to promote sustainability, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save utilities money by increasing water and energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and low-impact development in water infrastructure. Region 9 is achieving this goal in the following ways:

  • In 2012 we will provide $12 million to fund 45-50 tribal water infrastructure projects to serve homes lacking access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. U.S. Indian Health Service (IHS) has identified 417 such potential projects in Region 9. In Indian Country a disproportionate percentage of tribal homes lack access to safe drinking water and safe wastewater disposal. IHS data shows 13% of American/Alaska Native homes do not have safe drinking water and basic sanitation, an extremely high percentage compared with 0.6% of non-native homes in the United States that lack such infrastructure as measured by the U.S. Census. In providing these services to our tribes, we have the opportunity to merge traditional infrastructure maintenance with newer approaches for integrating the sustainable components of these systems. We will increase our use of energy assessments to better take advantage of the solar and wind power potential of tribal lands. Although incorporating these elements into traditional infrastructure approaches will be a challenge, these developments will increase our use of sustainable infrastructure technology Region-wide.
  • Build tribal capacity for improved compliance through contract circuit riders to assist operators and tribal governments in trouble shooting, operator training, user rate studies, and other issues vital to ensuring SDWA compliance and providing safe water.  Funding of $800,000 will increase contractor field presence to assist tribal systems in California, and Eastern and Western Arizona. A $70,000 cost share agreement with the IHS for a district utility consultant will be used to address the Nevada and Owens Valley Area. Additional assistance is provided through contract field surveys, used by EPA staff and circuit riders to follow up on system deficiencies and training. Approximately 80 field surveys are conducted annually at a cost of $400,000.
  • Encourage and assist our state Clean Water and Drinking Water SRF Programs to exceed the minimum Green Project Reserve requirements established annually by Congress to fund energy efficiency, water efficiency, renewable energy, recycled water, and green infrastructure/low impact development projects.
  • Initiate the California Water and Energy Project; ensure ten sustainable water infrastructure projects are developed and funded by 2013.
  • Complete at least ten energy and/or water audits this year at water and wastewater utilities by coordinating applicable federal, state, and energy utility resources.
  • Promote the use of Low Impact Development tools (LID) through urban storm water permits. We will comment on all draft MS4 permits to urge inclusion of specific LID performance standards for new and redevelopment, and requirements to develop LID retrofit plans over time. We will continue to track the inclusion of specific LID requirements in individual MS4 permits as a measure of success.
  • Leverage resources of existing technical-assistance organizations (such as Rural Water Association and Rural Community Assistance Corp.),  conduct audits, and promote integration of funding, operator certification, and compliance targeting to ensure that water system operators continue to receive the necessary training to allow them to obtain and retain certification at the levels appropriate to their system.
  • Support efforts by the California Water Institute (at California State University Fresno) to develop a Center for Disadvantaged Communities Water Assistance to address the water and wastewater needs of rural communities. We will support regionalization efforts and the stakeholders’ dialogue on regional solutions and development of institutional tools/processes for consolidation of small systems into a larger service area, providing the needed economy of scale for the delivery of safe, reliable and affordable drinking water. 

Community Drinking Water Systems

While community water systems continue to deliver safe drinking water in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to 97% of the population in Region 9, ensuring a safe, reliable and sustainable source of drinking water is fraught with ongoing challenges. Maintaining compliance with new and existing federal and state drinking water requirements coupled with increasing operation and maintenance costs associated with aging infrastructure poses the greatest challenge. Smaller water systems, such as those serving less than 10,000 persons, are greatly hindered by dis-economies of scale and lack of technical, managerial and financial capability to address needs. Region 9 is addressing the needs community drinking water systems in the following ways:

girl drinking from a water fountain
  • With our states, assess and improve the effectiveness of our program efforts to enhance the capability of the 3800 small community water systems in Region 9 by: 
    • Providing opportunities for networking through conference calls, workshops, and dedicated internet sites to share information and effective practices among states, Regions, and technical assistance providers;
    • Ensuring that states are prioritizing systems for assistance based on degree of public health risk with mechanisms to monitor water system and state follow-up efforts;
    • Providing additional subsidization for disadvantaged communities, and
    • Ensuring that any new systems have adequate capability before beginning operation.
  • Improve the data reliability and accuracy of our delegated drinking water programs through audits and reviews. With contractor support, we will conduct a comprehensive onsite file review and data audit of the Navajo Nation program and up to three “electronic” data audits of the Nevada, Arizona and the Northern Marianas Islands programs. We will evaluate and document business practice changes since the last comprehensive file review and data audit of three programs (California, Hawaii, and our own Tribal program).
  • Working with our states, address and resolve violations at 505 public water systems in accordance with the new SDWA enforcement response policy this year. (These 505 are from a universe of 755 PWSs with SDWA violations on the priority systems list as of July 2010.)
  • Working and consulting with tribal governments, address and resolve violations at 75 public water systems in Indian Country - including 11 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) public water systems this year.

Protect Drinking Water Aquifers from Underground Injections

The SDWA mandates our Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program to protect drinking water aquifers from adverse impacts caused by injection wells. Injection wells include deep industrial disposal wells, wells used for enhanced oil and gas recovery, solution mining wells, and shallow wells such as those used for stormwater drainage or as part of a community septic system. Under the UIC program, EPA issues permits to ensure that deep injection projects comply with safe drinking water requirements and encourages adoption of ground water protection Best Management Practices by operators of shallow injection wells. Region 9 is will work to protect drinking water aquifers from underground injections in the following ways:

  • The Region, States and Navajo Nation are committed to addressing all public water systems on the July 2011 Enforcement Target Tool list with a score of 11 or greater (over 300 systems across states/tribes/territories).
  • Evaluate new deep injection proposals and renewal applications, and anticipate issuing three to five permits each year. New injection proposals include natural gas storage caverns, geothermal energy development and copper solution mining in Arizona, brine injection at Newhall Ranch and commercial non-hazardous waste disposal in Ventura County. Anticipated renewals include biosolids injection by the City of Los Angeles, wastewater disposal at the Lahaina Reclamation Facility and Elk Hills Power Plant, and permits for the Alon Bakersfield refinery and Unocal's Guadalupe field.
  • Continue to compel closure of banned Large Capacity Cesspools (LCC) in Hawaii (see Hawaii section).

Carbon Sequestration

Atmospheric build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases as a result of human activities is linked to shrinking glaciers, sea level rise, changes in plant and animal habitats, and other global impacts. One possible way to mitigate the negative impacts of higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 is to capture the gas at stationary sources and inject it underground for long-term storage in a process called geologic sequestration (GS). EPA recently adopted rules for GS under the SDWA, which include stringent siting, construction, operational, monitoring, closure, and post-injection site care requirements for GS injection wells. All proposed GS projects in Region 9 will require a Class VI UIC permit to operate, and our UIC program will evaluate all permit applications to ensure protection of drinking water aquifers.

Top of page

Jump to main content.