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)

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.

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