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Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of questions frequently asked about the Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program to assist with your planning.  If you need additional information, please contact  the Charleston District Regulatory Office.
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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. A significant natural resource, wetlands serve important functions relating to fish and wildlife; food chain production; habitat; nesting; spawning; rearing and resting sites for aquatic and land species; 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.

The Corps has been involved in regulating activities by others in navigable waterways through the granting of permits since passage of the Rivers & Harbors Act (Section 10) of 1899. At first, this program was meant to prevent obstructions to navigation, although an early 20th century law gave us regulatory authority over the dumping of trash and sewage. Passage of the Clean Water Act (Section 404) in 1972 greatly broadened this role by giving the Corps authority over dredging and filling in the "waters of the United States," including many wetlands.

Are you building something on your property?


Let's say you have a property where you would like to build something... maybe a home or a business. We'll refer to this as your project. When deciding where to locate your project, including the building itself and your driveway or parking areas, you will need to know whether there are streams and/or wetlands on the property. If there are, you will need to delineate their boundaries. Then you will need to contact the Corps of Engineers to get a Jurisdictional Determination to review the delineation. Now that you know where wetlands are located, you can determine if you can avoid any wetland impacts. If not, you will need to know which permits are required by the Corps of Engineers (your federal permit agency) to build the project.

Streams are usually pretty easily recognized, especially when they carry a continuous and noticeable flow of water. Since streams function to drain upstream areas and contribute their flow to downstream waters, all streams, rivers, creeks, canals, etc. can be collectively referred to as tributaries. Smaller tributaries may not carry water all year round, and may be difficult to distinguish from swales and other runoff features that are not actually tributaries.

In addition to tributaries, there may be wetlands on your property. Wetlands are sometimes easy to recognize. For example, if you live next to a tidal marsh then you are familiar with the open expanses of marsh grasses that extend from the upland of your back yard all the way out to open water. Perhaps you live next to a swamp- literally a flooded forest- where you see tall cypress and gum trees with their cypress knees and enlarged trunks. These are easily identified as wetlands.

Other wetlands can be more difficult to distinguish from the surrounding uplands, such as wet pine forests where the soils are poorly drained and may remain moist most of the year, but still do not hold standing water like the swamps mentioned above.

The first step toward a jurisdictional determination is to delineate the boundaries of any wetlands and streams on the property. Delineations must be performed in accordance with the 1987 Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual and the appropriate Regional Supplement.  Property owners are encouraged to seek professional assistance with the delineation (a list of professionals is provided on this web site Courtesy List of South Carolina Environmental Consultants). This makes the process of identifying any wetlands on your property, as well as locating and flagging their boundaries much easier and faster. Delineating boundaries can be as simple as using brightly colored flagging tape or other easily visible markers placed at intervals along the edge (or boundary) of the wetland, in addition to documenting the wetland/nonwetland boundary by filling out the appropriate regional data form.

After "flagging the wetland boundary" in the field, it is then customary to produce a drawing or sketch on paper showing your entire property and the location and shape of all the areas that have been flagged (delineated) by you, including data point locations. This combination of flagging in the field and accompanying drawing can then be used in coordinating with the Corps of Engineers to have the delineation reviewed and verified for accuracy.

Knowing the location of wetland boundaries from the delineation can be very useful to you. With this knowledge you can design your project to avoid any proposed construction in wetlands, thereby minimizing ecological effects, reducing your flood risk as well as building costs, and avoiding the need for environmental permits from the Corps of Engineers.

A Jurisdictional Determination or JD is the task performed by the Corps of Engineers, at your request, to review and perhaps help you improve the accuracy of, your delineation. A JD is a letter (a legal document) issued to you by the Corps that explains that the Corps has reviewed your wetland delineation and has determined that the boundaries you have drawn are reasonably accurate. A Jurisdictional Determination is typically valid for five years, as will be indicated in the JD letter. The required Jurisdictional Determination Request form is available on this site and is a fairly user-friendly way to ask the Corps for a JD.

When a Request For JD is received, it is logged in and distributed to the Corps Regulator who will work with you to get the task accomplished. Generally, requests are processed in the order in which they are received, assuming the request contains all the information needed to complete the JD.  Timeframes for completion vary based on a variety of factors including but not limited to; the need for a site visit, type of JD request (Approved or Preliminary), information submitted, District workload, etc.

Let’s say that despite all your best efforts to identify and avoid wetlands, the necessary size or shape of your project will require encroachment into a wetland area. Maybe your access road needs to cross a small stream, or because of business ordinances you are required to have a certain minimum number of parking spaces to accommodate expected customer volume. What permission do you need to construct in wetlands?

The Corps of Engineers is the federal agency that reviews applications for placing fill, excavating or dredging, and using earth-moving equipment to clear land in wetlands and navigable waterways. If your proposed activity includes any of these types of wetland involvement, you will likely need a Department of the Army Permit before you can do the work. Other state permits may also be required, and you will probably want to consult the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to learn their requirements.

Following the Jurisdictional Determination described above, your next action is to submit a permit application to the Corps. The Joint State and Federal Application Form  is available on this site and can be printed for your use. While the form itself is only two pages in length, it is very important that the information you provide is complete and accurate. Information you provide will be used to determine what type of permit your work requires, and importantly, cannot be issued to you until all project information is complete.

In general, there are three types of permits issued by the Corps, depending on the nature and complexity of the proposed work.

Nationwide Permit

Projects which are relatively routine and are minor in nature may qualify for a Nationwide Permit. Nationwide Permits cover specific construction activities such as installing culverts for a small road crossing, or for using rip rap to stabilize a stream bank to prevent erosion. Presently, there are 49 Nationwide Permits issued to the public for various activities like those described above. In each case, there are specific thresholds regarding area and/or volume of impact that can result from the project, and each Permit includes a set of General Conditions and Regional Conditions to which the work must conform. If your proposed work qualifies for use of a Nationwide Permit, the Corps will help verify this and will issue you an authorization to use the Permit. Projects which qualify for Nationwide Permits are automatically authorized 45 days after a complete application has been received by the Corps; the Corps' intent is to issue this authorization to you prior to the 45th day.


General Permit

The second type of permit is referred to as a General Permit. General Permits are issued for certain types of relatively minor construction activities and generally are issued to specific entities such as the South Carolina Department of Transportation or Duke Energy, primarily because of the number of projects of a routine and similar nature these groups build. An important General Permit for Residential Docks has been issued to the citizens of South Carolina and is available for use when the proposed dock meets the conditions of the permit. If your proposed work qualifies for use of a General Permit, the Corps will help verify this and will issue you an authorization to use the Permit.


Standard Permit or Individual Permit

The third type of permit is referred to as a Standard Permit or Individual Permit. This type of permit is necessary for projects that do not qualify for Nationwide or General Permits, either because of their nature or the extent and/or location of their impacts. Unlike Nationwide and General Permits, Individuals Permits have not already been issued for authorization. In addition to having to evaluate and weigh the project’s benefits versus its environmental effects, it also means that when the application is received by the Corps, the proposed work must first be advertised in a Public Notice to give citizens and agencies the opportunity to comment.

Most permits issued by the Corps of Engineers such as Letters of Permission, Nationwide, and General Permits do not have a permit fee. Standard Permits have fees of $10 for individuals and $100 for businesses, once the permit has been issued and accepted by the permittee. There are no fees charged to other governmental bodies.
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 or fill material in 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.

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.  Navigable waters of the United States (33 CFR Part 329) are defined as waters that have been used in the past, are now used, or are susceptible to use as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce up to the head of navigation. Section 10 and/or Section 404 permits are required for construction activities in these waters. Typical activities requiring 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 U.S.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires approval prior to discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States.

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. 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 activities are exempt (33 CFR 323.4) from Section 404 permit requirements.


Section 103 of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act requires approval for the transportation of dredged material for the purpose of dumping it in ocean waters.

You should apply as early as possible to be sure you have all required approvals before your planned commencement date. For a large or complex activity that may take longer, it is often helpful to have a "pre-application meeting" 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 the Charleston District Regulatory office.
Performing unauthorized work in waters of the United States or failure to comply with the terms 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 the Charleston District Regulatory office.
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 meeting, particularly for applications for major activities, are recommended.

Waters of the United States includes essentially all surface waters such as all navigable waters and their tributaries, all interstate waters and their tributaries, all wetlands adjacent to these waters, and all impoundments of these waters.

The ordinary high water mark is the line on the shores established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics such as:

a.             a clear natural line impressed on the bank;

b.             shelving;

c.             changes in the character of the soil;

d.             destruction of terrestrial vegetation;

e.             the presence of litter and debris;

f.              or other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas.

Navigable waters are defined as waters that have been used in the past, are now used, or are susceptible to use as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce up to the head of navigation. Section 10 and/or Section 404 permits are required for construction activities in these waters. A complete list is available in the District Office.