Regulatory Permitting

The Regulatory Program is committed to protecting the Nation's aquatic resources and navigation capacity, while allowing reasonable development through fair and balanced decisions. The Corps evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in the Nation's waters, including wetlands. 

The Corps balances the reasonably foreseeable benefits and detriments of proposed projects, and makes permit decisions that recognize the essential values of the Nation's aquatic ecosystems to the general public, as well as the property rights of private citizens who want to use their land.  During the permit process, the Corps considers the views of other Federal, state and local agencies, interest groups, and the general public. The results of this careful public interest review are fair and equitable decisions that allow reasonable use of private property, infrastructure development, and growth of the economy, while offsetting the authorized impacts to the waters of the U.S.  Adverse impacts to the aquatic environment are offset by mitigation, which may include restoring, enhancing, creating and preserving aquatic functions and values.  The Corps strives to make its permit decisions in a timely manner.

Types of Permits

The type of permit that is issued by the Corps depends on the nature of the activity and the impacts to waters of the U.S. Permits issued by the Corps fall into two categories, General and Individual Permits.

General permits are a type of permit issued on a regional or nationwide basis for a category or categories of activities when: (1) those activities are substantially similar in nature and cause only minimal individual and cumulative environmental impacts; or (2) the general permit would result in avoiding unnecessary duplication of the regulatory control exercised by another Federal, state, or local agency provided it has been determined that the environmental consequences of the action are individually and cumulatively minor. General Permits consist of Regional, Programmatic, and Nationwide Permits.

  • Nationwide Permits

Nationwide permits (NWPs) are general permits issued on a nationwide basis to streamline the authorization of activities that result in minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment. 

In order to qualify for the use of a NWP, perspective permittees must comply with all of the terms, general conditions (GCs), and regional conditions (RCs) of the NWP, including any requirements for the submittal of a pre-construction notification (PCN).  Many of the NWPs, GCs and RCs require the submittal of a PCN before commencing the work, to ensure that the activities authorized by those NWPs have minimal individual and cumulative adverse impacts on the aquatic environment.  In these cases, if the activity complies with the terms and conditions of the NWP, a NWP verification letter will be sent to the prospective permittee.  The NWP verification may include additional case-specific conditions (special conditions) to ensure no more than minimal individual and cumulative impacts, and will state that the verification is valid for a specific period of time, unless the NWP authorization is modified, suspended, or revoked.

Per regulation, the NWPs must be reissued every five years. The reissuance process involves a full interagency and public interest review.

  • Regional General Permits

Regional General Permits (RGPs) authorize recurring activities at a regional level.  They may only be issued following the publishing of a public notice, and preparation of a decision document to ensure that the authorized activities cause only minimal individual and cumulative environmental impacts.

In the majority of cases, RGPs and PGPs contain conditions to further ensure that environmental impacts are minimal, including conditions for the submittal of a permit application prior to activities occurring within waters of the U.S. To ensure compliance with the RGP or PGP, you must carefully read all of the terms and conditions of an RGP or PGP prior to initiating construction activities in waters of the U.S.

  • Programmatic General Permits

Programmatic General Permits (PGPs) are a type of general permit founded on an existing state, local or other Federal agency program and designed to avoid duplication with that program.  There are currently no PGPs within the San Francisco District's Area of Responsibility

Individual permits are permits for activities that cannot be authorized under a general permit.  These activities may have more than minimal individual or cumulative environmental impacts or may include activities not covered under a general permit.  Individual permits consist of Letters of Permission and Standard Permits.

  • Letter of Permission

Letters of Permission (LOPs) are a type of individual permit issued through an abbreviated processing procedure which includes coordination with Federal and state fish and wildlife agencies and a public interest evaluation, but without the publishing of an individual public notice.

  • Standard Permit

Standard Permits (SPs) are a type of individual permit which has been processed through the public interest review procedures, including public notice and receipt of comments.  Review through the SP process is done for activities that do not qualify for authorization under a RGP, PGP, NWP, or LOP and require a 30-day Public Notice period and review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

How to Apply for a Permit

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An applicant must provide several types of information to enable the Corps to evaluate the proposed project. The types of information we need include a completed application form, legible drawings and clear illustrations. For your convenience, you can complete the application form on-line, print and sign it, and mail it to us. To help you, we have compiled an application instruction sheet and a permit application checklist that identify and explain the type of information needed for processing an application.

Please save the following document to your desktop, then use Adobe Acrobat Reader to open it to be able to fill it out. application form

Sample Streambank application

Three types of illustrations are needed to properly depict the work to be undertaken. These illustrations or drawings are identified as a Vicinity Map, a Plan View or a Typical Cross-Section Map. See our recently published Map and Drawing Standards for the South Pacific Division Regulatory Program for details.

For projects that may fit under our Nationwide Permit Program, we have a Nationwide Pre-Construction Notification form.  For more information about nationwide permits, click here.

If you have questions regarding the preparation of an application after reading this material please contact our general information line at (415) 503-6795.

Your proposed activity might affect Federally-listed threatened or endangered species. Please check with our staff or a biological consulting firm to determine whether there might be an effect on listed species when you submit your application. The Corps must consult with the appropriate Federal agencies if your activity might affect listed species. In order for the Corps to initiate consultation, we request the following information to help expedite the consultation process.  Click here for more guidance on determining when a proposed Nationwide Permit (NWP) activity is required to submit a pre-construction notification in order to comply with NWP General Condition 18.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended (NHPA), requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on Historic Properties and afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment on such undertakings. Therefore, prior to the issuance or authorization of any permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, or Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) must consider the effect the permit may have on Historic Properties. Historic Properties may include prehistoric or historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, objects, sacred sites, and traditional cultural places that are included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

For projects that may result in impacts to cultural resources listed on, or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), we must consult with the SHPO or THPO, as appropriate. As a part of the cultural resources investigation, we may also need to consult with Federally recognized Indian Tribes, in accordance with Executive Order 13175.

In order to assist us in ensuring compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA, the Corps requires information regarding the presence or absense of cultural resources within a proposed project area of impact to be submitted with all permit requests. Failure to do so may result in delays in the Section 106 Consultation process. When you submit the information to us, please provide an extra copy to be forwarded to the SHPO or THPO. If available, please provide an electronic version of the information on a compact disc. Reports not meeting the minimum guidelines will be returned to the applicant or consultant for revision.

An archaeological report or literature and records search may be obtained from the California Historical Resources Information System.

If your project is navigation dredging in San Francisco Bay; such as, dredging navigation channels, marinas, boat slips and boat basins, the Bay Area regulatory agencies will also accept a joint application specific for dredging projects. For more information about completing this application form, you can visit the DMMO web site.

If your project site is  located in one of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties (San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, Sonoma or Marin Counties) you may also use the JARPA form (fillable word version). JARPA stands for Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application. This application will be accepted by the Corps and other Bay Area regulatory agencies (such as, BCDC and the Regional Water Quality Control Board) instead of their regular application forms. It has been designed to include the application requirements of each of the the regulatory agencies.

Mitigation measures may be required for direct and indirect impacts to the aquatic environment caused by projects in waters of the U.S.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a Compensatory Mitigation Rule on April 10, 2008, to clarify how to provide compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to the nation's wetlands and streams.

There are three mechanisms for providing compensatory mitigation: permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation, mitigation banks and in-lieu fee mitigation. Permittee-responsible mitigation can be located at or adjacent to the impact site (i.e., on-site compensatory mitigation) or at another location generally within the same watershed as the impact site (i.e., offsite compensatory mitigation). Mitigation banks and in-lieu fee mitigation both involve off-site compensation activities generally conducted by a third party, a mitigation bank sponsor or in-lieu fee program sponsor. When a permittee’s compensatory mitigation requirements are satisfied by a mitigation bank or inlieu fee program, responsibility for ensuring that required compensation is completed and successful shifts from the permittee to the bank or in-lieu fee sponsor.

Compensation projects provided by all three compensation mechanisms (i.e., permittee-responsible compensatory mitigation, mitigation banks, and in-lieu fee mitigation) must have a mitigation plan which includes 12 fundamental components: objectives; site selection criteria; site protection instruments (e.g., conservation easements); baseline information (for impact and compensation sites); credit determination methodology; a mitigation work plan; a maintenance plan; ecological performance standards; monitoring requirements; a long-term management plan; an adaptive management plan; and financial assurances.

Statutory Authorities

33 U.S.Code § 1344

EPA Overview


Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires authorization from the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Corps of Engineers, for the discharge of dredged or fill material into all waters of the United States, including wetlands.

Discharges of fill material generally include, without limitation: placement of fill that is necessary for the construction of any structure, or impoundment requiring rock, sand, dirt, or other material for its construction; site-development fills for recreational, industrial, commercial, residential, and other uses; causeways or road fills; dams and dikes; artificial islands; property protection or reclamation devices such as riprap, groins, seawalls, breakwaters, and revetments; beach nourishment; levees; fill for intake and outfall pipes and subaqueous utility lines; fill associated with the creation of ponds; and any other work involving the discharge of fill or dredged material.

A Corps permit is required whether the work is permanent or temporary. Examples of temporary discharges include dewatering of dredged material prior to final disposal, and temporary fills for access roadways, cofferdams, storage and work areas.

Additional information can be found at:
33 C.F.R. Part 323 - Permits For Discharges Of Dredged Or Fill Material Into Waters Of The United States

33 U.S. Code § 403. Obstruction of navigable waters generally; wharves; piers, etc.; excavations and filling in

That the creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by Congress, to the navigable capacity of any of the waters of the United States is hereby prohibited; and it shall not be lawful to build or commence the building of any wharf, pier, dolphin, boom, weir, breakwater, bulkhead, jetty, or other structures in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, navigable river, or other water of the United States, outside established harbor lines, or where no harbor lines have been established, except on plans recommended by the Chief of Engineers and authorized by the Secretary of War; and it shall not be lawful to excavate or fill, or in any manner to alter or modify the course, location, condition, or capacity of, any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, lake, harbor of refuge, or enclosure within the limits of any breakwater, or of the channel of any navigable water of the United States, unless the work has been recommended by the Chief of Engineers and authorized by the Secretary of War prior to beginning the same.


Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (RHA) requires authorization from the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Corps of Engineers, for the construction of any structure in or over any navigable water of the United States. Structures or work outside the limits defined for navigable waters of the United States require a Section 10 permit if the structure or work affects the course, location, or condition of the water body. The law applies to any dredging or disposal of dredged materials, excavation, filling, rechannelization, or any other modification of a navigable water of the United States, and applies to all structures, from the smallest floating dock to the largest commercial undertaking.  It further includes, without limitation, any wharf, dolphin, weir, boom breakwater, jetty, groin, bank protection (e.g. riprap, revetment, bulkhead), mooring structures such as pilings, aerial or subaqueous power transmission lines, intake or outfall pipes, permanently moored floating vessel, tunnel, artificial canal, boat ramp, aids to navigation, and any other permanent, or semi-permanent obstacle or obstruction.

Additional information can be found at:
33 C.F.R. Part 322 -  Permits for Structures or Work in or Affecting Navigable Waters of the United States

 

33 U.S. Code § 401 - Construction of bridges, causeways, dams or dikes generally; exemptions

It shall not be lawful to construct or commence the construction of any bridge, causeway, dam, or dike over or in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, navigable river, or other navigable water of the United States until the consent of Congress to the building of such structures shall have been obtained and until the plans for (1) the bridge or causeway shall have been submitted to and approved by the Secretary of Transportation, or (2) the dam or dike shall have been submitted to and approved by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army. However, such structures may be built under authority of the legislature of a State across rivers and other waterways the navigable portions of which lie wholly within the limits of a single State, provided the location and plans thereof are submitted to and approved by the Secretary of Transportation or by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army before construction is commenced. When plans for any bridge or other structure have been approved by the Secretary of Transportation or by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army, it shall not be lawful to deviate from such plans either before or after completion of the structure unless modification of said plans has previously been submitted to and received the approval of the Secretary of Transportation or the Chief of Engineers and the Secretary of the Army. The approval required by this section of the location and plans or any modification of plans of any bridge or causeway does not apply to any bridge or causeway over waters that are not subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and that are not used and are not susceptible to use in their natural condition or by reasonable improvement as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce.


Section 9 of the RHA prohibits the construction of any dam or dike across any navigable water of the U.S. in the absence of Congressional consent and approval of the plans by the Chief of Engineers and by the Secretary of the Army.  Where the navigable portions of the waterbody lie wholly within the limits of a single state, the structure may be built under authority of the legislature of that state if the location and plans or any modification thereof are approved by the Chief of Engineers and by the Secretary of the Army. The instrument of authorization is designated a permit (See .) Section 9 also pertains to bridges and causeways but the authority for issuing permits under Section 9 of the RHA has been given to the U.S. Coast Guard, although a DA permit may be required pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act if the construction of a bridge over a navigable water requires the discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the U.S.

Additional information can be found at:
33 C.F.R. Part 321 - Permits For Dams And Dikes In Navigable Waters Of The United States

33 U.S. Code § 1413


Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 or Ocean Dumping Act requires the issuance of a permit for the transportation of dredged material for the purpose of disposal in the ocean waters.

Regulatory Links

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