California Geothermal Water Quality Assessment(14-CA)
Developers may be required to obtain several permits related to water quality issues, including permits for nonpoint source pollution, NPDES permitting, underground injection control, 401 water quality certification, and waste discharge.
Developers may be required to comply with a Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) Control Program if one has been developed by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) or a Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) for the activity proposed by the developer. Developers may choose to implement a project-specific NPS pollution control plan if the SWRCB or RWQCB NPS pollution control plans do not cover the developer’s project. Developers should contact the relevant SWRCB or RWQCB to determine the requirements for a project-specific NPS pollution control program. Any project-specific plan must be approved, and an on-site evaluation will be conducted to ensure effectiveness.
Developers must comply with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements if their project will discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. California has been granted authority by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer the NPDES program within the state. In California, the NPDES permit program is implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB). Developers may apply for coverage under a general NPDES permit, or may apply for an individual NPDES permit. A general NPDES permit covers multiple facilities within a specific category. An individual NPDES permit is specifically tailored to an individual proposed project for an effective period of no more than five years. Developers must submit an application for an individual NPDES permit to the relevant SWRCB or RWQCB for review. Following review, the complete application will be forwarded to the EPA for comments. The SWRCB or RWQCB will develop a draft permit and a final NPDES permit that also must be reviewed by the EPA. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Developers must obtain an Underground Injection Control (UIC) Permit from the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) if their project involves the injection of spent (cooled) geothermal fluids and supplemental waters from other sources. Geothermal wells are classified as Class V wells for UIC purposes. Developers must apply for a UIC permit with DOGGR for review. DOGGR will develop a Draft Project Approval Letter, provide public notice, and allow for comment. DOGGR may make revisions to the letter before issuing an Underground Injection Project Approval Letter to the developer.
Developers must obtain a 401 Water Quality Certification from California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) if their geothermal project implicates any federal license or permit issued to construct or operate a facility which may result in any fill or discharge into navigable waters of the United States. Developers must submit a Section 401 Water Quality Certification Application to the SWRCB, and notify the appropriate regional water quality control board. 23 CCR 3855. The regional board will make recommendations to SWRCB and inform of conditions necessary to ensure the activity will comply with water quality standards. SWRCB must publish notice of the application, and the developer may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Developers must obtain a Waste Discharge Permit from the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) if their geothermal project involves the discharge of certain fluids. Whether a Waste Discharge Permit is required depends on the type of fluid discharged and the form of disposal. Developers must complete and submit a Report of Waste Discharge Application (Form 200) to RWQCB for review. Following review of the application, RWQCB may approve the discharge, waive waste discharge permit requirements, or prohibit the discharge. If RWQCB decides to issue a Waste Discharge Permit, then they will develop a draft permit, provide public notice, and allow for comment. Developers may be required to participate in a public hearing.
Determine Which State and Federal Permits Apply
Use this overview flowchart and following steps to learn which federal and state permits apply to your projects.
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