On February 18, 2021, the First Appellate District issued an opinion in Sweeney et al. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., San Francisco Bay Region et al. (Case No. A153583) (“Sweeney”). The opinion is much anticipated given its relevance to the continued validity of the State Water Resources Control Board’s recently adopted State Procedures for Discharges of Dredged and Fill Material (“Procedures”). The Appellate Court reversed the lower court in the entirety, substantially deferring to the actions and prosecutorial discretion of the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (“Regional Water Board”, collectively, “Water Boards”) based on application of a revised standard of review. Importantly, according to the court, the appropriate interpretation of the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act’s (“Porter-Cologne Act”) definition of waste provides the Water Boards adequate authority to regulate discharges of dredge and fill material, bolstering the Water Boards’ efforts to continue with implementation and enforcement of the Procedures, which were recently called into question and narrowed by the trial court order issued in San Joaquin Tributaries Authority v. State Water Resources Control Bd. (Case No. 34-2019-80003133) (“SJTA”). A full analysis of that order is available here.
On December 17, 2020, the Sacramento County Superior Court substantially limited the scope of waters to which the State Procedures for Discharges of Dredged and Fill Material (“Procedures”) apply through its decision in San Joaquin Tributaries Authority v. State Water Resources Control Board (Case No. 34-2019-80003133). According to the Court, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) exceeded its policy-making and water quality control plan development authority, resulting in the restriction of the Procedures to those waters regulated under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and State “ocean waters.” The Court’s decision significantly narrows the delta between the discharges of dredged and fill material regulated exclusively under the Procedures, and those that will now be regulated under both federal and state water quality control laws. However, because the Court’s opinion did not invalidate the Procedures in their entirety, permittees will still need to evaluate application of the Procedures, though to a constricted set of waters and aquatic features.