On Thursday, May 24, the US Forest Service held a Water Quality Review Panel meeting at the Yurok Tribal Headquarters in Klamath, CA. For over three years I have been representing state-wide OHV interests while the Forest Service has been updating their Water Quality Management Handbook. Other attendees included representatives of three Tribes (Yurok, Karuk, and Quartz Valley), Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Forest Alliance, Forest Service (Region 5 and Six Rivers NF) and State and Regional Water Board representatives.
In 2004, the State of California released a policy on waste discharge dealing with non-point source discharge pollution sources. This policy requires the Forest Service to review their water quality management practices and comply with federal Clean Water Act and the state Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act mandates to reduce potential adverse impacts to water quality.
(For detailed information, see http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/rwqcb5/water_issues/basin_plans/appdx1.pdf)
In simple terms, the current management agreement requires the Forest Service to obtain Waste Discharge Requirement permits or Waivers of Waster Discharge Requirements for activities on Forest Service managed lands within the State of California in order to protect water quality.
The activities subject to Waste Discharge Requirement permits or Waivers of Waster Discharge Requirement include such things as grazing, mining, timber harvest, and OHV activity (including road and trail maintenance).
In 2010, California Regional Water Board 1 and Forest Service established a "North Coast Waiver" that covered six northern California forests. This waiver complied with the 2004 state policy and excludes many activities from further revue by the Regional Water Board as long as they meet requirements of Best Management Practices and the Water Quality Management Handbook.
The State Water Board rejected an application by the Forest Service to establish a similar state-wide Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for routine projects within Forest Service managed lands.
As it stands, projects within the six North Coast forests are subject to the Water Board Region 1 waiver along with the Water Quality Management Handbook and Region 5 Best Management Practices.
The remaining Region 5 forests are subject to the Water Quality Management Handbook and Region 5 Best Management Practices and possible review by the specific Regional Water Board with jurisdiction over the specific National Forest under terms of a 1981 management agreement between Region 5 and the State Water Board.
For the most part, it will be "business as usual" with limited impact; except in cases where the Categorical Exclusion of a routine project is subjected to an appeal. (Note, a recent court decision held that Categorial Exclusion projects are subject to appeal.)
For example, Sierra Trek is an activity on Forest Service managed lands. Currently, it's permit is issued after review to ensure compliance with numerous federal laws and regulations, including the Clean Water Act, under a Categorical Exclusion. As CEs are subject to appeal, should an appeal by filed, it would result in a minimum 45 day delay in issuing the final permit.
The State Water Board and Forest Service acknowledge a regulatory gap in achieving compliance with the 2004 State of California policy on waste discharge dealing with non-point source pollution sources. Discussions continue at the State Water Board to resolve that issue.
This link is to the current Region 5 Water Quality Management Handbook which includes the Region 5 BMPs:
This link is to the national Forest Service BMPs.
While both documents apply, within Region 5, the regional WQMH is the governing document.