Data: Areas of Special Biological Significance

Abstract: 
This data set details State Water Quality Protection Areas (SWQPA) formely known as Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). SWQPA are under State Water Resources Control Board jurisdiction. Areas of Special Biological Significance status limits water quality impacts by prohibiting point source and storm drain discharges. Assembly Bill (AB) 2800 (Chapter 385, Statutes of 2000), the Marine Managed Areas Improvement Act, was approved by Governor Davis on September 8, 2000. This law added sections to the Public Resources Code (PRC) that are relevant to ASBS. Section 36700(f) of the PRC defines a state water quality protection area (SWQPA) as “a nonterrestrial marine or estuarine area designated to protect marine species or biological communities from an undesirable alteration in natural water quality, including, but not limited to, areas of special biological significance that have been designated by the State Water Resources Control Board through its water quality control planning process.” Section 36710(f) of the PRC stated: “In a state water quality protection area point source waste and thermal discharges shall be prohibited or limited by special conditions. Nonpoint source pollution shall be controlled to the extent practicable. No other use is restricted.” The classification of ASBS as SWQPAs went into effect on January 1, 2003 (without State Water Board action) pursuant to Section 36750 of the PRC.Senate Bill (SB) 512 (Chapter 854, Statutes of 2004) amended the marine managed areas portion of the PRC, effective January 1, 2005, to clarify that ASBS are a subset of SWQPAs and require special protection as determined by the State Water Board pursuant to the Ocean Plan and the Water Quality Control Plan for Control of Temperature in the Coastal and Interstate Waters and Enclosed Bays and Estuaries of California (Thermal Plan). Specifically, SB 512 amended the PRC section 36700(f) definition of SWQPAs to add the following: “Areas of special biological significance are a subset of state water quality protection areas, and require special protection as determined by the State Water Resources Control Board pursuant to the California Ocean Plan adopted and reviewed pursuant to Article 4 (commencing with Section 13160) of Chapter 3 of Division 7 of the Water Code and pursuant to the Water Quality Control Plan for Control of Temperature in the Coastal and Interstate Waters and Enclosed Bays and Estuaries of California (California Thermal Plan) adopted by the state board.”Section 36710(f) of the PRC was also amended as follows: "In a state water quality protection area, waste discharges shall be prohibited or limited by the imposition of special conditions in accordance with the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act (Division 7 (commencing with Section 13000) of the Water Code) and implementing regulations, including, but not limited to, the California Ocean Plan adopted and reviewed pursuant to Article 4 (commencing with Section 13160) of Chapter 3 of Division 7 of the Water Code and the Water Quality Control Plan for Control of Temperature in the Coastal and Interstate Waters and Enclosed Bays and Estuaries of California (California Thermal Plan) adopted by the state board. No other use is restricted." This language replaced the prior wording stating that point sources into ASBS must be prohibited or limited by special conditions and that nonpoint sources must be controlled to the extent practicable. In other words, the absolute discharge prohibition in the Ocean Plan stands, unless of course an exception is granted.Established according to AB 2800, the State Interagency Coordinating Committee has already acted, under authority of the PRC, to rename certain Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other Marine Managed Areas (MMAs), including ASBS/SWQPAs, to be consistent with the entire system of MMAs in the State’s ocean and estuarine waters. Furthermore, the State Fish and Game Commission has adopted these name changes for certain MPAs. It is therefore important to change the names of those ASBS that physically coincide with those MPAs and other MMAs. Thus, the amended Ocean Plan would acknowledge and be consistent with the PRC and the classification system of other State agencies.The classification of ASBS as a subset of SWQPAs does not change the ASBS designated use for these areas. Practically speaking, this means that waste discharges to ASBS are prohibited under the Ocean Plan and Thermal Plan unless an exception is granted. The Ocean Plan’s provisions on ASBS are consistent with PRC Section 36710(f), which states that waste discharged into SWQPAs “shall be prohibited or limited by the imposition of special conditions...”Under the 2001 Ocean Plan, point source discharges to ASBS/SWQPAs are allowed only if the State Water Board grants an exception to the discharge prohibition. Currently, only five dischargers have NPDES permits and have been granted Ocean Plan exceptions contingent upon compliance with permit conditions. Four of these were issued prior to 1991 and included exceptions for the US Navy (San Clemente Island ASBS, Los Angeles Region) and (San Nicolas Island ASBS, Los Angeles Region), the Carmel Sanitary District (Carmel Bay ASBS, Central Coast Region), and the Humboldt County Resort Improvement District No. 1 at Shelter Cove (Kings Range National Conservation Area ASBS, North Coast Region). On July 22, 2004, Scripps Institution of Oceanography was granted the fifth exception (Resolution No. 2004-0052) covering all its discharges into the San Diego Marine Life Refuge ASBS (San Diego Region). This exception included the strictest conditions, including comprehensive monitoring requirements, of any other exception to date, assuring the protection of beneficial uses in the ASBS/SWQPA. The State Water Board has the authority to revoke or re-open any exception if there is evidence that beneficial uses are not being fully protected. In WHEREAS number 19 of Resolution No. 2004-0052, the State Water Board determined that “The exception will be reviewed during the Triennial Review of the Ocean Plan. If the State Board finds cause to revoke or re-open this exception, it may do so during the Triennial Review or at any other time that it so desires.” Future exceptions will be drafted to include the same language. The Triennial Review is the logical and efficient milepost to review all exceptions to assure that beneficial uses are being protected. It is important to clearly state this in the Ocean Plan. In addition, a clear listing of current exceptions should also be included in each new Ocean Plan, in a new Appendix VII.
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