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Regulatory Program Overview

Water is one of our nation's most valuable resources. It is becoming increasingly important that we protect the quality of our inland waters and wetlands for the use and benefit of future generations.

This page discusses the regulatory program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: what it is, how it may affect you, and what you as a concerned American can do to help.

If you are planning work in a river, stream, lake, or wetland, a Corps permit may be required.

The program takes into consideration all concerns of the public - environmental, social, and economic - in the Corps-decision-making process to either issue or deny permits. As part of its responsibility to protect water quality, and other functions and services, the Corps Section 404 permit program extends to many areas under the Clean Water Act.

The purpose of the Section 404 program is to insure that the physical, biological, and chemical quality of our nation's water is protected from discharges of dredged or fill material that could permanently alter or destroy these valuable resources. Additionally, we administer Section 10 of the Rivers & Harbors Act from 1899 to ensure that our Nation’s waters are properly preserved for navigational purposes

The Regulatory Division of the Savannah District administers the Regulatory Program for the entire State of Georgia under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 USC. 1344), Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 USC. 403), and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (33 USC. 1413). The Regulatory Division is organized into three Branches, Coastal, Piedmont and Multipurpose Management. The Multipurpose Management Branch provides administrative and technical support to the Division. The Coastal and Piedmont Branches process and evaluate permit applications in their respective geographical boundaries. In addition, the Coastal Branch has a field office in Albany, Georgia and the Piedmont Branch has a field office at Lake Lanier.

Waters of the United States

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

  • a clear natural line impressed on the bank;
  • shelving;
  • changes in the character of the soil;
  • destruction of terrestrial vegetation;
  • the presence of litter and debris;
  • or other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas.


"Wetlands" are those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Other examples include seasonal wetlands including vernal pools.

Wetland delineations must be conducted in accordance with our 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual, and its supplements, and submitted to us for our review.

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 requires Corps authorization prior to any work in, under, or over navigable waters of the United States, or which affects the course, location, condition or capacity of such waters. Navigable waters of the United States 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. Typical activities requiring Section 10 permits are:

  • Construction of piers, docks, wharves, bulkheads, dolphins, marinas, ramps, floats intake structures, and cable or pipeline crossings.
  • Dredging and excavation.
  • Bank stabilization.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires Corps authorization prior to discharging dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States. The goal of this Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nations’ waters. Typical activities requiring Section 404 permits are:

  • Discharges of fill or dredged material in 'waters of the US' including wetlands.
  • Residential, commercial, or recreational developments including roadways and utility lines.
  • Construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, levees, dams, dikes, riprap, and weirs.

Who Should Obtain A Permit?

Any person, firm, or agency (including Federal, state, Sovereign Nation, and local government agencies) planning to work in waters of the United States, or dump or place dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, must first obtain a permit from the Corps. Permits, licenses, variances, or similar authorization may also be required by other Federal, state and local statutes.

A Jurisdictional Determination (JD) is the process of locating, identifying, and classifying waters of the United States The JD is essential for planning purposes and determining if a permit is required for any work you may want to perform on a particular property.

Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 404(b)(1) Guidelines, the USACE can only permit the Least Damaging Practicable Alternative (LEDPA). All projects must first avoid, minimize, and only then compensate for any proposed impacts to waters of the United States, including wetlands.

Pre-Application Consultation

You are encouraged to contact the Corps for proposed work in waters in your area. Exemptions, nationwide, regional and individual permit requirements will be reviewed. By discussing all information prior to application submittal, your application will be processed more efficiently. More information on pre-application consultation is available online.

An official determination as to the need for a Department of the Army permit will be provided upon request. The Corps is required to follow all Federal laws that apply to any permit application including, but not limited to, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act.

Types of Permits

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  • Nationwide Permits are a type of general permit and represent DA authorizations that have been issued by the regulation (33 CFR part 330) for certain specified activities nationwide. If certain conditions are met, the specified activities can take place without the need for an individual or regional permit. 
  • Regional General Permits are a type of general permit. They may be issued by a division or district engineer after compliance with the other procedures of this regulation. If the public interest so requires, the issuing authority may condition the regional permit to require a case-by-case reporting and acknowledgment system. However, no separate applications or other authorization documents will be required.
  • Programmatic General Permits 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.

Permit processing usually takes 45 days, unless a public hearing, consultation for endangered species and/or cultural resources is required, or an environmental document must be prepared.


  • Letters of Permission can be issued following cooperating agencies’ review of an application for a Department of the Army permit. After evaluating all comments and information received a final decision is made. A permit may be granted unless the proposal is found to be contrary to the public interest.
  • Standard Permits can be issued following a full public interest review of an individual application for a Department of the Army permit. A public notice is distributed to all known interested persons. After evaluating all comments and information received, final decision on the application is made.

Permit processing usually takes 60 to 120 days, unless a public hearing, consultation for endangered species and/or cultural resources is required, or an environmental document must be prepared.

The permit decision is generally based on the outcome of a public interest balancing process where the benefits of the project are balanced against the detriments. A permit may be granted unless the proposal is found to be contrary to the public interest.


You Can 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 outlined in this brochure and solicits your views and comments on better ways of attaining the goals of this program. Your comments, questions, and suggestions should be directed to one of our regulatory offices.

For additional information, to apply for a permit, or request a presentation please talk to one of our knowledgeable staff persons at the USACE office nearest you or call Savannah District office at                 1-800-448-2402.

Regulatory Pages

Contact Information

Phone: 1-800-448-2402