USACE regulators work to balance development with environmental protection

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District
Published July 6, 2021
Updated: July 6, 2021
Three men lean over a color chart.

Charleston District regulators review soil classifications and conditions for a delineation.

While many people may know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District because of their numerous civil works projects and community involvement, another division with a great impact on the area is the Regulatory Division. The Regulatory Division supports economic development and the creation of jobs, while also committing to no net loss of aquatic resources.

Since 1899, the Charleston District Regulatory Division has been responsible for regulating activities and construction in, over and under South Carolina’s waters and wetlands. Originally intended to ensure safe navigation in our waterways, the USACE authority expanded during the 20th century to include the regulation of the discharge of dredged and fill material in S.C. waters.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act made USACE the primary regulators of “the waters of the United States,” eventually to include many wetlands. Under the Act, USACE assumed permit authority over any and all dredging and filling activities in or around waterways.

Today, the Regulatory Division reviews over a thousand permit applications and jurisdictional determination requests every year from all over the state. The projects that are reviewed range from things like a homeowner wanting to build a driveway over a stream in their yard, to major investments like the building of the new Carolina Panthers Headquarters or the construction of BMW’s Spartanburg plant.

An important part of the regulatory process is jurisdictional determinations, or JDs. A JD is the official USACE determination of whether an area meets the federal definition of wetland or other water of the United States. For wetlands and waters within USACE jurisdiction, development that would unavoidably impact waters of the U.S. must receive a permit from the USACE prior to the discharge of material into those waters.

The permitting process begins with the regulator asking: “Will this project affect wetlands or waters of the United States?” If so, the permit application review will include evaluating the effects the development may have on a range of environmental issues, including historic properties and protected species in the review area relevant to the activity requiring a permit.

Ultimately, regulators will assist the applicant by identifying and permitting the alternative that meets the project’s overall purpose while first minimizing, and then offsetting unavoidable impacts to waters of the U.S. through appropriate compensatory mitigation.

The job of a regulator is demanding and requires multiple steps and analyses. It is a fast-paced and high-pressure role that has the immense responsibility of protecting America’s waterways and associated wetlands. It is the determination and devotion of these regulators and their support staff that contribute to making the Charleston District a world-class organization.

South Carolina has 33 regulators whose backgrounds include experience in similar agencies and extensive education in the natural and physical sciences. They work closely with other local and federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the S.C Department of Natural Resources to balance economic development and environmental protection.

The role of regulators in South Carolina has grown as development in the Lowcountry and elsewhere has steadily increased over the past years. USACE regulators stand ready to balance economic growth with the commitment to the protection of the nation’s waters.

For more information on the Regulatory Division or how you can help protect America’s waters, visit the Charleston District’s website at