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Frequently Asked Questions

In conformance with the Regulatory Division objective, this page has been designed for the specific purpose of troubleshooting problems or questions that customers may encounter while exploring our Website. Below are answers to questions often asked about the Regulatory program.

When should I apply for a Corps permit?

Since three to four months is normally required to process a routine application involving a public notice, you should apply as early as possible to be sure you have all required approvals before your planned beginning date. For a large or complex activity that may take longer, it is often helpful to have a "pre-application consultation" or informal meeting with the Corps during the early planning phase of your project. You may receive helpful information at this point, which could prevent delays later. When in doubt as to whether a permit may be required or what you need to do, don't hesitate to call a district regulatory office.

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 requires approval prior to the accomplishment of any work in, over or under navigable waters of the United States, or which affects the course, location, condition or capacity of such waters.

Typical activities requiring authorization under Section 10 include:

  • Construction of piers, wharves, breakwaters, jetties, weirs, marinas, ramps, floats, intake structures, and cable or pipeline crossings.
  • Work such as dredging or disposal of dredged material.
  • Excavation, filling or other modifications to navigable waters of the U.S.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires permit authorization to discharge dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States, including wetlands.

Typical activities requiring authorization under Section 404 include:

  • Discharging fill or dredged material in waters of the United States, including wetlands.
  • Site development fill for residential, commercial or recreational projects, including mechanized land clearing.
  • Construction of breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes and weirs.
  • Placement of riprap and road fills.

I have obtained permits from local and state governments. Why do I have to get a permit from the Corps?

Although you have obtained permits from local and state governments, you still need to comply with federal law. The Corps of Engineers Regulatory Division is given jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Sections 9 and 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, all of which are federal law. Keep in mind that minor projects may fit under a nationwide permit or regional general permit.

What will happen if I do work without getting a permit from the Corps?

Performing work in waters of the United States without Corps authorization can have serious consequences. Enforcement is an important part of the Corps Regulatory program. State and federal agencies, groups and individuals that report suspected violations often aid Corps surveillance and monitoring activities. The Corps may issue orders requiring corrective action including removal of the unauthorized work and restoration, and/or in certain cases accept an after-the-fact permit application, initiate legal action, or recommend referral to the Environmental Protection Agency for administrative, civil or criminal penalties. The EPA has independent enforcement authority under the Clean Water Act for unauthorized discharges. The Corps works closely with the EPA to coordinate the most effective and efficient resolution of Section 404 Clean Water Act violations.

If you suspect a violation of the Clean Water Act, please contact your local Regulatory Office.

How can I find out more information about permit requirements?

Let us help you fill out a permit application. Click here to watch a step-by-step video of the permit application process and its requirements.

Why should I waste my time and yours by applying for a permit when you probably won’t let me do the work?

Nationwide, 3 percent of all requests for permits are denied. Those few applicants who have been denied permits usually have refused to change the design, timing, or location of the proposed activity. When a permit is denied, an applicant may redesign the project and submit a new application. To avoid unnecessary delays pre-application conferences, particularly for applications for major activities, are recommended. The Corps will endeavor to give you helpful information, including factors, which will be considered during the public interest review, and alternatives to consider that may prove to be useful in designing a project.

What is a wetland and what is its value?

The Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency define wetlands as “areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.”

Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas. Some wetlands, such as swamps or marshes, are often obvious, but some wetlands are not easily recognized because they are dry during part of the year or don’t appear to be very wet.

Wetlands serve important functions relating to fish, wildlife and people. These include food chain production and habitat for nesting, spawning, rearing and resting sites for aquatic and land species. Wetlands also protect uplands from erosion, provide storage for storm and floodwaters, and perform natural water filtration and purification functions.

  • Guide to Alaskan Wetland Plants

How can I design my project to eliminate the need for a Corps permit?

If your activity is located in an area of tidal waters, the best way to avoid the need for a permit is to select a site that is above the high tideline and avoids wetlands or other water bodies. In the vicinity of fresh water, stay above ordinary high water and avoid wetlands adjacent to the stream or lake. Also, it is possible that your activity is exempt and does not need a Corps permit. Another possibility for minor activities is that a nationwide or a regional general permit may have authorized them. So, before you build, dredge or fill, contact the Corps district regulatory office in your area for specific information about location, exemptions, and regional and nationwide general permits.