4: Regulatory Coordination/Streamlining
This section stems from comments from both agency staff and landowners on the difficulty of the existing permitting process due to multiple agencies having jurisdiction over projects. A grower or rancher may need multiple permits from each of several agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, with separate fees, different requirements, different timelines, and sometimes contradictory mandates, even for projects which have a beneficial impact on water quality. Also, the application of existing regulations may not allow for sufficient flexibility in developing and improving conservation measures. The general intent of the strategies in this section is to simplify and coordinate the existing permitting process for practices which protect water quality, more effectively apply existing regulations, and strengthen collaborative efforts between the regulatory agencies and the landowners.
Each county should develop or modify existing regulatory guidebooks to help landowners and agencies better understand the existing permitting processes, and to clarify federal, state, and local responsibilities (e.g., San Mateo County Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program's (STOPPP) "Guide to Creek and Wetland Project Permitting," and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts' (CARCD) "Guide to Wetland Permitting"). Guidebooks should also contain or refer to a list of management practices which do not require permits. These guidebooks, along with permit applications and any other permit information associated with agricultural practices, wetlands, and riparian issues, should be collected and made available to growers and ranchers at convenient, centralized locations. A project proponent could go to or contact this center for all the basic background information and applications he or she will need.
Information required for permitting and environmental assessment is not always clear or readily accessible. Each agency currently houses its own permitting information and forms, as well as any guidance documents for appropriate project designs. Project applicants must determine on their own which permits from which agencies are required, and must contact each agency independently for applications and basic guidelines. This leads to frustration and confusion on the part of agricultural property owners who are proposing environmental enhancement projects. There is a need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of regulatory agencies in order to clarify the permit requirements for any particular project, particularly those in or near a creek or wetland, and to make all permitting materials more user-friendly and easily obtained from a central location.
Step 1: Evaluate and modify existing regulatory guidebooks.
- Evaluate potential guidebook models for coastal areas (e.g., "San Mateo County STOPPP's "Guide to Creek and Wetland Project Permitting," CARCD's "Guide to Wetland Permitting"), and determine which aspects make it most useful to its intended audience.
- Determine what parts of guides need to be modified for applicability in each county.
- Develop information specific to the Central Coast region (e.g., appropriate county contacts, listed species).
Step 2: Produce a regulatory/permitting guide for each coastal county.
- Produce guides from the county-level perspective, including information on local, state, and federal permitting requirements.
- Provide list of agencies that may have permitting authority over projects of various types.
Step 3: Make guidebooks widely available.
- Distribute guidebook via Farm Bureaus, public works and planning departments, Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), technical outreach staff, workshops, etc., and eventually, to the new one-stop-shopping permit centers.
- Ensure that agency/planning staff are familiar with guidebooks and can help the public with their use.
- Work with agency management and field staff to ensure that they are distributing the guidebooks.
Step 4: Investigate and develop pilot site for permit center.
- Evaluate existing one-stop-shopping permit centers in this region and elsewhere to identify successes and problems.
- Choose a site and determine level of service available (e.g., basic written information only, telephone or computer hook-up to agency offices from the site, or possibly joint staffing).
- Have each agency gather its application and other public information, catalog it, update it as necessary, and make it accessible at the site.
- Publicize and operate the centralized location for permitting, including outreach permitting clinics to promote use of center.
Step 5: Evaluate and expand pilot efforts.
- Monitor and evaluate level of use, effectiveness, agency and applicant satisfaction with the center.
- Develop similar permit centers in additional counties.
- Prepare and publicize informational handouts on the new centers.
Counties, CDFG, California Coastal Commission, US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), RWQCB, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), EPA, local water management districts, NRCS, WQPP.
Success will be measured by the production of a regulatory/permitting guide for each coastal county, the number of guidebooks distributed to growers and ranchers, and the establishment of a centralized location for permitting needs. Longer-term success would be measured by a clearer understanding of what practices require permits and who should be contacted, as measured by spot surveys and input from technical assistance agents.
Facilitate the installation of nonpoint source pollution control practices by developing regional or watershed-based permits, agreements, pre-approved water quality certifications or waivers for management practices which would accommodate the actions of multiple growers, ranchers, and forest landowners within a specific watershed, rather than requiring complete applications from every individual. Obtain agency "preapprovals" of management practices designed according to guidelines from reliable technical sources such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Develop a mechanism to monitor installation, maintenance and effectiveness of the management practices, and to allow for adaptive management to improve practices based on experience. Build on pilot regulatory coordination efforts already underway in the Elkhorn Slough watershed.
Where degraded natural resource conditions exist, develop a degree of flexibility for the process of regulatory review when a proposed restoration project would result in net benefits for habitat and water quality. This flexibility should allow for more expedient and streamlined approval of habitat restoration projects, as opposed to more rigorous review required for traditional development projects. Develop a system for tracking the success of the practices installed via NRCS field staff.
Growers, ranchers, and forest landowners willing to invest their money to create a stream-side berm, a vegetated buffer of native plants between cropped land and a riparian zone, a sediment retention basin, or many other environmentally-friendly practices face the prospect of review by numerous local, state and federal agencies. Individual agricultural landowners and managers must now apply separately for permission to undertake these projects, even if they are working according to the same set of technical installation guidelines (such as NRCS' Field Office Technical Guides). The complex, costly and time-consuming nature of current agency review processes can act as disincentives to individual growers, ranchers, and forest landowners for installing management practices meant to protect natural values or to provide for water quality. They can also act as disincentives to implementing changes to improve the effectiveness of management practices, based on experience in the field.
Continuing pressure on species from expanding urban areas makes enhancement of existing agricultural habitat areas critical to the long-term diversity of wildlife in the region. Under the current regulatory system, restoration projects are generally subjected to the same standard of review as traditional development projects, which presume the project will have some negative impact on sensitive environmental resources. Landowners may be disinclined to initiate restoration projects when their proposals are faced with such rigid regulatory interpretation by the agencies. Landowners also fear that their good intentions in restoring habitat could attract endangered species and enmesh them in unwanted regulatory review or penalties. Property owners may be more willing to create habitat on their lands if they did not have to worry about running afoul of the law or losing future flexibility in their land management.
Step 1: Identify appropriate technical sources of "pre-approved" management practices, and applicable agency permit requirements and mandates.
- Work with technical outreach agents such as NRCS and UCCE and landowners to identify a range of applicable management practices for a specific watershed that are meant to provide agricultural, natural resource and water quality benefits.
- Consult with local, state and federal agencies concerning their individual mandates and determine the scope and form of their regulatory jurisdiction over those practices.
- Encourage programmatic review and approval of categories of agricultural nonpoint source pollution control management practices by permitting agencies and professional agricultural technical advisors.
Step 2: Establish coordinated permit process for multiple growers and ranchers.
- Meet with regulatory agencies to outline goals of project and identify streamlined approaches.
- Fully describe the categories of potential practices and any conditions for their installation.
- Work individually with each agency to establish regional or watershed-based permits, agreements, pre-approved water quality certifications or waivers which could accommodate adaptive management and cover multiple landowners.
- Identify lead agency which will hold a regional/watershed permit, and will work with growers/ranchers to help them meet the technical requirements for permit compliance. For example, NRCS and the Resource Conservation District (RCD) are the joint lead agencies/permit holders for the Elkhorn Watershed.
- Implementation of this step has already begun for the lower Salinas River watershed.
Step 3: Promote revised permit process to landowners/managers as incentive for the implementation of improved agricultural nonpoint source control practices.
- Develop brochures/fact sheets describing the streamlined regulatory process and requirements for participation.
- Promote the revised process as removing a barrier to the development and implementation of improved agricultural nonpoint source control practices by eliminating the need for individual applicants to obtain separate permits or agreements.
Step 4: Establish mechanism to monitor success.
- Support the monitoring of practices installed under regional or watershed-based permits or permit waivers to meet agricultural, natural resource and water quality goals.
- Establish which agencies/groups could be responsible for ensuring requirements of regional permits or permit waivers are met.
Step 5: Consider the feasibility and need for developing multi-agency joint permit applications as a possible additional step for simplifying the application process.
- Evaluate whether additional approaches to permit coordination are needed for individuals or watersheds which could not be accommodated under steps 1 though 4.
- Identify and evaluate potential models for combined permit applications, such as Washington State's Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application (JARPA) which combines information needed for seven federal, state and local permits, and a similar process underway through the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.
- Evaluate the feasibility of incorporating information requirements of the respective agencies into a joint permit application.
- Coordinate the review of combined permit applications.
Step 6: Provide more flexible evaluation for habitat restoration projects.
- Request early agency review and sign-off on individual management practices or project components that clearly have no adverse impact on the resources. Confirm and document the findings of these consultations to increase certainty of a consistent standard of evaluation of the management practice/restoration effort.
- If necessary, modify existing regulations or ordinances to accommodate need for additional flexibility regarding restoration projects, while still meeting resource protection goals.
- Ensure landowners are not penalized for endangered species that move onto restored habitat.
Counties, CDFG, California Coastal Commission, ACOE, RWQCB, US EPA, USFWS, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), NRCS, UCCE, Sustainable Conservation, WQPP, Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations, RCDs, Agricultural Commissioners.
Success will be measured by the establishment of regional or watershed-based permits, agreements, pre-approved water quality certifications or waivers which could accommodate multiple landowners; by tracking the sequential modification/application of this process to all agricultural watersheds draining to the Sanctuary; by the number of growers and ranchers who use this process; and by evaluating the success/maintenance of the permitted practices over time to ensure agency mandates are being met (as outlined in Step 4). Overall success will be indicated by increased implementation of management practices, due in part to the removal of permitting disincentives.
Develop guidelines and management support to encourage collaborative efforts between regulatory field agents and landowners as the first approach to solving problems, rather than early initiation of enforcement actions on practices observed during field visits (unless there is an imminent threat to resources). Improve the network of early referrals to non-regulatory agencies who can assist growers in solving problems and complying with regulations. Develop guidelines for field visits which define consistent steps of phased assistance before enforcement actions for similar circumstances, while focusing enforcement on situations where there is an imminent threat to resources or persistent situations of noncompliance. Ensure that staff devotes effort to discriminate between persistent noncompliance and growers or ranchers in unavoidable or temporary circumstances of noncompliance. Establish a formal means for evaluating complaints regarding unforeseen consequences resulting from the regulatory or permitting process. (Link this strategy with Strategy 3-3, toward increasing agency staff understanding of agriculture.)
Early initiation of enforcement actions during field visits sometimes occurs before a historical context for the problem has been understood and the grower/rancher has been offered assistance and time to solve the problem. This creates an atmosphere of distrust among agencies and landowners, reduces productive sharing of information, and can promote a tendency to hide problems rather than work to solve them. Working collaboratively with growers and ranchers while focusing enforcement efforts on those persistently out of compliance will address some of the most serious environmental concerns, and will improve the overall public perception of both the regulatory agencies and the agricultural community. In addition, since policy makers cannot always foresee all of the practical effects and consequences of a given piece of regulation, there should be some means for evaluating any inadvertent problems which that regulation might cause.
Step 1: Specify the types of projects or situations where agencies and landowners need the capability for regulatory flexibility by field personnel.
- Conduct series of interviews with growers, ranchers, agricultural industry groups, regulatory agency representatives, NRCS, and UCCE to more clearly define the problem regarding field visits by regulatory agencies.
- Identify specific events (e.g., where there is no imminent threat to resources) or types of enforcement actions that could be better addressed through a phased assistance approach rather than immediate enforcement, noting and building upon the efforts of agencies which are currently using a phased approach for certain circumstances.
Step 2: Develop an institutional framework that allows enforcement field staff to first work with landowners to solve their problems, rather than requiring enforcement actions at initial occurrence.
- Develop management support and training for field staff of regulatory agencies to have more autonomy and decision-making authority to work with landowners, established non-regulatory outreach agencies, and other providers of technical assistance for sufficient periods to try and solve problems.
- Encourage agencies to pool staffs to coordinate problem solving and increase staff availability, and strengthen regulatory agencies' referrals to non-regulatory outreach agencies who can assist growers.
- Develop agreements among agencies and guidelines for field visits which define consistent steps of phased assistance before any enforcement actions for similar circumstances. Assistance should include development of historical context for problem, and documentation of efforts made on the landowner's part to solve problems.
Step 3: Focus enforcement actions on persistent situations of noncompliance.
- Set schedules with deadlines for compliance, based on a minimum number of contacts with a landowner or time period before enforcement proceeds.
- Adopt strict enforcement for landowners who have a history of repeated violations and have taken no action to solve problems.
- Establish a revolving fund to make repairs to areas resulting from violations or delinquencies with violators billed for repairs.
Step 4: Establish formal regulatory review process within each agency.
- Establish a formal regulatory review process in each agency for taking and evaluating complaints regarding inadvertent problems which are claimed to result from their regulation or permitting process.
- Where possible, develop solutions to reduce these inadvertent effects.
Counties, CDFG, USFWS, NMFS, US EPA, Cal EPA, RWQCB, California Coastal Commission, ACOE, Watershed Institute, NRCS, RCD, UCCE, Farm Bureaus, Cattlemen's Associations, Grower-Shipper Vegetable Association of Central California and other commodity associations.
Success will be measured generally by the extent to which a more collaborative approach to problem-solving is taken first, where possible, before enforcement actions are considered by regulatory agents, and by the extent to which this approach resolves conservation issues. This would be tracked by those agencies whose field staff receive the training. Interim goals will be measured by: the degree of participation by agency field staff in trainings on using the more collaborative approach; the development of agreements among agencies and guidelines for field visits defining consistent steps of phased assistance; and the establishment of a formal regulatory review process within regulatory agencies.