Facilitating water quality improvement projects as restitution for violations under the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s enforcement process.
Supplemental Environmental Projects, or SEPs, allow a discharger to undertake an environmentally beneficial project as restitution for polluting water under the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board)’s enforcement process. For example, an unauthorized sewage or chemical spill into the Bay or a creek could result in a Water Board enforcement action and monetary fines known as Administrative Civil Liabilities (ACLs) levied against the discharger. The discharger may elect to suspend part of the fine by undertaking one or more Supplemental Environmental Projects. SEPs must be related to the location or nature of the violation and should remediate or reduce the probable overall environmental or public health impacts or risks to which the violation contributed, or reduce the likelihood that similar violations will occur in the future.
The State Water Resources Control Board supports the inclusion of SEPs in the settlement of an enforcement action. More information can be found on the Regional Water Board’s Enforcement page and the State Water Resources Control Board’s SEP page.
Typical SEPs include water quality, restoration, or habitat improvement projects. In addition, AB 1071 requires each board, department, or office (BDO) within the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to establish a policy on SEPs that benefits disadvantaged communities, including: establishing a public process to solicit potential SEPs from disadvantaged communities, reduced liabilities, and additional considerations of the proximity between violation site and SEP site.
Habitat and Living Resources
Water Quality and Quantity
The Estuary Partnership provides third-party oversight for selected SEPs, ensuring that projects are implemented in a timely and effective manner consistent with the requirements of the ACL order. The Estuary Partnership’s oversight duties include but are not limited to:
Note: Estuary Partnership staff do not conduct and may not be involved in any portion of enforcement actions, collection of fines or fees, or direct responses to citizen complaints beyond collecting information from submitted deliverables.
Dischargers propose SEPs to the Water Board, and often make use of a separate entity to implement the project. In order to be approved, a proposed SEP must:
Note: All SEPs are subject to oversight by the Water Boards.
A discharger proposes to direct up to 50 percent of a monetary assessment toward the completion of an acceptable SEP. The San Francisco Estuary Partnership maintains a list of potential projects for consideration and provides assistance to the Regional Water Board and dischargers in identifying potential projects.
After a project has been proposed, Regional Water Board Enforcement staff (and other staff as necessary) review the scope to ensure it meets all applicable requirements. Upon mutual agreement between all parties, Enforcement staff incorporate the SEP (i.e., project description, responsibilities, deliverables, and milestones) into the ACL order. There should be a high level of certainty that the project can be completed during the specified timeframe because there are typically no changes allowed once an ACL order is finalized. An exception to this is that ACL orders typically allow for a time extension under certain circumstances pending Water Board approval.
Dischargers considering an SEP in partial restitution of a water quality violation may consult the Potential Projects List maintained by the Estuary Partnership. The list is available here.
If you’re considering any of these projects and would like further information, please contact us.
SEP opportunities arise when: 1) a violation or unauthorized discharge occurs; 2) the Water Board successfully pursues enforcement action, and 3) the discharger elects to resolve the enforcement action in part through an SEP rather than paying the full ACL liability, or fine. Because the timing, funding, and approval for an SEP is contingent on these factors, there is no way to know whether or when an SEP may be selected.
In order to minimize the effort involved for project proponents, we ask for a simple concept proposal initially. If your project is selected by a discharger for consideration, you will be asked to develop a broader proposal including a detailed project description, budget, milestones, description of benefit, and performance measures. The full proposal must demonstrate consistency with the State Water Board’s SEP Policy.
SEPs are generally considered for projects exceeding $20,000. There is no upper limit; however, most funded projects fall in the $100,000-$250,000 range.
To submit a project concept, please download the form here. If you have questions, please contact us.