Review suggest that at various times the Division may have permitted injection wells to operate in aquifers classified by federal law as underground sources of drinking water; without first requiring an official determination from U.S EPA that these aquifers may be exempted from Safe Drinking Water Act protections. The Division's permitting of injections into such wells was contrary to the objectives of the State UIC program.
On May 29, 2015, as part of a multi-pronged interagency effort to address this problem, the Department commenced a rulemaking entitled "Aquifer Exemption Compliance Schedule Regulations." The regulations created by this rulemaking establish a statewide, prioritized schedule by which injection into an underground source of drinking water that has not received an aquifer exemption must cease, unless and until an aquifer exemption is in place. The regulations also clarify that the compliance schedule does not in any way limit the Division's discretion to take enforcement action-including rescission or restriction of approvals to inject. Where appropriate, the Division can issue, and has issued, orders to well operators requiring that injection activities at specific wells be halted immediately, notwithstanding the generally applicable statewide deadlines set forth in the regulations. The regulations create a regulatory backstop that will enable the Division to better achieve and enforce statewide compliance with existing objectives of the State UIC program for protection of natural resources and the environment in an efficient, balanced, and effective manner. This regulatory backup functions in addition to, not as substitute for, the Division's existing authority to regulate injection activities.
The Department has determined that this rulemaking is exempt from full review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Public Resources Code section 21000, et seq.) because the rulemaking fits within one or more categorical exemptions and will not have a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances.
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