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Frequently Asked Questions

In conformance with the Regulatory Branch objective, this page has been designed for the specific purpose of trouble shooting any problems or questions that you, the customer, may encounter while exploring our website. Various questions are often asked about the regulatory program; hopefully these answers will help you to understand the program better.

Click on the questions below to view the answer.

General Questions

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   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 one of our Corps Field Offices for further assistance. 

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

It is possible you may not have to obtain an individual permit, depending on the type or location of work. The Corps has many general permits, which authorize minor activities without the need for individual processing.

Check with your local Corps Field Office for information on general permits.  When a general permit does not apply, you may still be required to obtain an individual permit for projects with greater than miminal impacts to the aquatic resource(s). 


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

Performing unauthorized work in waters of the United States, including wetlands, or the failure to comply with the terms and conditions of a valid permit can have serious consequences.  You would be in violation of federal law and could face stiff penalties, including fines and/or requirements to restore the area.

Enforcement is an important part of the Corps regulatory program.  Corps surveillance and monitoring activities are often aided by various agencies, groups, and individuals, who report suspected violations.  When in doubt as to whether a planned activity needs a permit, contact your local Corps Field Office early in the planning of your project.  It could save a lot of unnecessary trouble later.

 How can I obtain further information in reference to permit requirements?
Start by learning more about our Regulatory Program and authority, reviewing our permitting process, or by contacting your local Corps Field Office

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

Nationwide, only three 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 meetings are recommended, particularly if applications involve major activities/impacts to the aquatic resources.  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?

Wetlands are areas that are periodically or permanently inundated by surface or ground water and support vegetation adapted for life in saturated soil.  Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.

As a significant natural resource, wetlands serve important functions relating to fish and wildlife.  Such functions include food chain production, habitat, nesting spawning, rearing and resting sites for aquatic and land species.  They also provide protection of other areas from wave action and erosion; storage areas for storm and flood waters; natural recharge areas where ground and surface water are interconnected; and natural water filtration and purification functions.

Although individual alterations of wetlands may constitute a minor change, the cumulative effect of numerous changes often results in major damage to wetland resources. 

The review of applications for alteration of wetlands will include consideration of whether the proposed activity is dependent upon being located in an aquatic environment. 

 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 tide line 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.


Who Needs a Permit?

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 Who Needs a Permit?

Any person, firm, or agency (including Federal, state, and local government agencies) planning to work in navigable waters of the United States, or discharge (dump, place, deposit) dredged and/or fill material into a waters of the United States, including wetlands, must first obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers.

Permits, licenses, variances, or similar authorization may also be required by other Federal, state and local statutes. 

 How Can I Help?

The understanding and support of the American people is vital to the success of this program.  To protect our nation's water resources and assure their use and enjoyment for future generations, we must all join this vital effort. 

We ask your help in "passing the word" to others concerning the permit requirements and solicit your views and comments on better ways of attaining the goals of this program. 

What Work Activities Require a Permit?

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 What is a water of the United States (WUS)? 
Waters of the United States (33 CFR Part 328) include essentially all surface waters, including all navigable waters and their tributaries, all interstate waters and their tributaries, all impoundments of these waters, all wetlands adjacent to these waters, and certain isolated wetlands. 
 What is a Section 404 Water?

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) requires approval prior to discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States, including wetlands.  

Typical activities requiring Section 404 permits include:

  • Discharging fill or dredged material in waters of the U.S., including wetlands
  • Site development fill for residential, commercial, or recreational developments
  • Construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes, and weirs
  • Placement of riprap and road fills

Certain specific work activities may qualify as exempt from Section 404 permit requirements. 

 What is a Navigable Water?

Navigable waters of the United States are defined as tidal waters and waters that have been used in the past, are now used, or are susceptible to be used as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce up to the head of navigation (33 CFR Part 329).  A Section 10 and/or Section 404 permit from the Walla Walla District, Regulatory Division is required for work activities of navigable waters within the State of Idaho, including wetlands.

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

 Typical activities requiring a Section 10 permits include:

  • Construction of piers, wharves, breakwaters, bulkheads, jetties, weirs, dolphins, 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 United States

 What is a wetland?

Wetlands” are areas characterized by growth of wetland vegetation (bulrush, cattails, rushes, sedges, willows, pickleweed) where the soil is saturated during a portion of the growing season (hydric soils) and the surface is flooded during some part of most years (hydrology).  Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides a brochure on the importance of Recognizing Wetlands and The Value to the Nation of our wetlands.

 What is an Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM)?

The landward regulatory limit for non-tidal waters (in the absence of adjacent wetlands) is the ordinary high water mark.  The ordinary high water mark is the line on the shore or bank established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics, such as:

  1. A clear natural line impressed on the bank
  2. Shelving
  3. Changes in the character of the soil
  4. Destruction of terrestrial vegetation
  5. Presence of litter and debris
  6. Other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas