Report 97123 Summary - November 1998

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board:

Has Not Accomplished All of Its Regulatory Work and Has Not Always Vigorously Acted Against Water Quality Violators

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board (Lahontan) is responsible for protecting water quality within its region. However, our review revealed that Lahontan is not fulfilling all of its regulatory responsibilities. Particularly for dischargers that pose the highest threat to water quality, Lahontan did not always update permits promptly, complete compliance inspections, or ensure that dischargers submitted self-monitoring reports. Although Lahontan develops work plans to manage its workload for the coming year, these plans do not always target or outline actions that enable Lahontan to measure its progress toward completing its workload. Lahontan believes that it does not receive sufficient resources to complete all regulatory responsibilities; however, it does not always focus its limited resources on those dischargers that present the highest threats to the region's water quality.

Also, Lahontan has not consistently ensured prompt resolution to water quality violations. For example, Lahontan did not always follow up on permit violations, did not take informal enforcement actions when violations occurred, and did not take formal enforcement actions promptly to deter or reduce future violations. In addition, Lahontan did not always escalate enforcement actions when dischargers failed to comply with initial actions. Lahontan stated that in the past, it followed a cooperative approach with violating dischargers because formal enforcement actions took substantial staff time to prepare. However, Lahontan has recently shifted emphasis towards more vigorous and prompt enforcement.

Moreover, although the State Water Resources Control Board (state board) is responsible for providing statewide oversight and administration of water quality planning and regulatory functions, it needs to more effectively monitor the regional boards. Specifically, the state board did not ensure that Lahontan developed its work plans when required, tracked and monitored data for work-plan goals, and focused work-plan goals on the highest threats to water quality. The state board also relied on flawed data to measure Lahontan's progress. Further, the state board could do more to ensure that all regional boards consistently address water quality violations.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To better ensure that it addresses work that represents the highest threat to the region's water quality, Lahontan should take the following steps:

  • For each of its programs, prepare work plans that encompass its key regulatory responsibilities, such as updating permits, conducting compliance inspections, and reviewing monitoring reports. These work plans should target those dischargers or sources of pollution that present the highest risk of pollution to the region's waters. They should take into account funding constraints, rely on accurate workload data, and accomplish measurable goals.

  • Monitor the performance of its program managers and water quality staff against the goals set forth in the work plans.

To better ensure the consistent enforcement of the state's water quality laws, Lahontan should adhere to those key provisions of the statewide enforcement policy that call for continuous follow-up on enforcement actions to ensure their success. Also, when dischargers do not cooperate with its initial enforcement efforts, Lahontan should escalate enforcement actions promptly.

The state board should ensure it directs and adequately monitors the performance of the regional boards. It should evaluate the goals set in their work plans and determine whether the regional boards develop the goals based on reasonable workload standards.

To assist the regional boards in achieving a higher degree of consistency in their enforcement actions, the state board should do the following:

  • Continue its efforts to develop a statewide database of ongoing and past enforcement actions that regional board staff can access when considering the proper course of action in a pending case.

  • Routinely review a sample of enforcement actions from all nine regional boards, to determine whether the boards consistently adhere to the statewide enforcement policy.

AGENCY COMMENTS

The California Environmental Protection Agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board generally agree with our recommendations and audit findings


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