Laws, Regulations, Standards, and Guidelines to Protect Aquatic Life and Ecosystems

This page provides brief summaries and links to additional information for a number of existing laws and regulations currently in place at the federal, state, and local level to protect aquatic resources and associated aquatic life beneficial uses.

Note:  This web page is under development. It should not be viewed as an exhaustive list.


Federal Statutes

  • Clean Water Act
    • Section 303d – List of Impaired Waters (303[d] Report)
      States, territories, and authorized tribes are required to develop lists of impaired waters, and submit those lists (303[d] Report) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Impaired waters do not meet the water quality standards that have been established for them. The law requires that these jurisdictions establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these waters.  A TMDL is the maximum mass of a pollutant that can be added to a waterway per day that does not cause an exceedence of the water quality standard for that waterway.  In some cases, other regulatory programs will address the impairment instead of a TMDL.
    • Section 305b – National Water Quality inventory Report to Congress (305[b] Report)
      The 305(b) report is the primary vehicle for informing Congress and the public about general water quality conditions in the United States. This document characterizes the nation’s water quality, identifies widespread water quality problems of national significance, and describes various programs implemented to restore and protect our waters.  The USEPA has issued guidance to States, which requires the 303(d) and 305(b) reports to be integrated (i.e., California 303[d]/305[b] Integrated Report).
    • Section 401 – Certification
      Any applicant for a Federal license or permit to conduct any activity including, but not limited to, the construction or operation of facilities, which may result in any discharge into navigable waters, shall provide the licensing or permitting agency a certification from the State in which the discharge originates or will originate, or, if appropriate, from the interstate water pollution control agency having jurisdiction over the navigable waters at the point where the discharge originates or will originate.
    • Section 404 – Dredge and Fill Permits
      Establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Examples of activities that may be regulated under this program include fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports) and mining projects. Section 404 requires a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps of Engineers) regulatory permit before dredged or fill material may be discharged into waters of the United States, unless the activity is exempt from Section 404 regulation (e.g., certain farming and forestry activities).
  • Rivers and Harbors Act
    • Section 10 – Work in Navigable Waters
      Requires authorization from the Corps of Engineers for the construction of any structure in or over any navigable water of the United States, the excavation/dredging or deposition of material in these water or any obstruction or alteration in a "navigable water". Structure or work outside the limits defined for navigable waters of the U.S. require a Section 10 permit if the structure or work affects the course, location, condition, or capacity of the water body.
  • Endangered Species Act
    • Federal Endangered Species Act
      The purpose of this Act is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The FWS has primary responsibility for terrestrial and freshwater organisms, while the responsibilities of NMFS are mainly marine wildlife such as whales and anadromous fish, such as salmon.

Federal Executive Orders

  • Federal Executive Order 11990 – Wetland Protection
    The purpose of this Executive Order is to "minimize the destruction, loss or degradation of wetlands and to preserve and enhance the natural and beneficial values of wetlands". To meet these objectives, the order requires federal agencies, in planning their actions, to consider alternatives to wetland sites and limit potential damage if an activity affecting a wetland cannot be avoided.

Code of Federal Regulations

  • Title 40 - Protection of the Environment – maintained by the Government Printing Office

California State

California State Statutes

  • California Endangered Species Act (CESA)
    The CESA states that all native species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, invertebrates, and plants, and their habitats, threatened with extinction and those experiencing a significant decline which, if not halted, would lead to a threatened or endangered designation, will be protected or preserved. However, CESA also allows for take incidental to otherwise lawful development projects. CESA emphasizes early consultation to avoid potential impacts to rare, endangered, and threatened species and to develop appropriate mitigation planning to offset project caused losses of listed species.
  • Fish and Game Code
    • Section 1602 – Streambed Alteration Program
      Requires an entity to notify the Department of Fish and Wildlife of any proposed activity that may substantially modify a river, stream, or lake.  This includes proposed activities that will: substantially divert or obstruct the natural flow; substantially change or use any material from the bed, channel, or bank; or deposit or dispose of debris, waste, or other material containing crumbled, flaked, or ground pavement where it may pass into any river, stream, or lake.  If the Department of Fish and Wildlife determines the activity may substantially adversely affect fish and wildlife resources, a Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement will be prepared.  The agreement includes reasonable conditions necessary to protect those resources and must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
  • Water Code – on the California Legislative Counsel Website

California State Regulations

  • Plans and Policies
    Water Quality Control Plans (including Basin Plans) and State Policies for Water Quality Control have the legal force and effect of regulation
  • California Code of Regulations
    Maintained by the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL)