On September 23, 2014, the State Water Quality Control Board upheld the legal basis for the Regional Water Board’s denial of a water quality permit and provided guidance for finalizing that decision.

In June 2013, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board took the unusual step of denying a water quality permit for the “Tesoro Extension.” The Tesoro Extension is, in fact, the northern leg of the complete Foothill toll road project that would continue south to bisect San Onofre State Park. Otherwise, Tesoso has no reason for existence, as it is not needed to serve local development. While the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) pretends it a stand alone project, in submittals to federal agencies and bond holders, it is deemed part of the larger “241 Completion Project.”

The Regional Board refused to grant a permit because under the State Porter Cologne Act it has the ability to look at projects as a whole, and in the case of Tesoro, it rejected the segment until it could understand the totality of the project. But with the totality of the project already rejected by the California Coastal Commission and the US Department of Commerce––and indeed sent back for more study by the Regional Board itself––it was a mystery where Tesoro would lead and what impacts on water resources it would have.

In its appeal to the State Board, the TCA attempted to narrow the authority of the Water Boards to protect the State’s water quality, so that it had to close its eyes to impacts beyond whatever segment of a project an applicant chose to present. But the State Board upheld the broader authority. It also sent the issue back to the Regional Board so it could better clarify in findings the reasons for denial.

EHL and others from the Save San Onofre Coalition traveled to Sacramento to testify. Our outside legal counsel, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, pointed out that other transportation projects that are built in phases do not have to worry, as the Tesoro is an anomaly where the entire project was not defined and the segment had no stand alone purpose.

Assuming the Regional Board maintains its position, the next step will be for it to follow the State Board’s guidance in crafting findings. EHL and its allies will continue this multi-decade campaign.