Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation

Regulatory: Permits

The Corps strives for a fair, flexible, efficient and balanced permit process that protects the nation's aquatic resources while allowing necessary and reasonable development. The Corps evaluates permit applications for most activities that occur in the nation's waters and wetlands, including construction or renovation of dams, dikes, piers, and jetties; dredging; discharges of dredged or fill material; and commercial and residential development. The Corps primarily issues three types of permits: standard, general, and letters of permission.

Standard Permits

The standard permit process has four general steps:

  • Pre-application/application. A project is identified and the organization undertaking it develops and submits an application. Corps staff provides input as needed on application and review requirements.
  • Public notice and comment. Upon submittal of a complete application, the Corps solicits the views of a variety of individuals, agencies and organizations.
  • Evaluation, decision and mitigation. The Corps evaluates the application and the public comments and seeks to balance public interest factors and the benefits and detriments of the project. A primary goal of the review process is to minimize the impact of projects on the environment. The Corps coordinates with several federal, state and tribal agencies during this process.
  • Monitoring and enforcement. Once a permit has been issued the Corps continues to monitor the project to ensure that the permit's conditions are met.

General Permits

This is the most common type of permit issued by the Corps. General permits are issued on a national, regional or statewide basis. They are usually issued quickly because they cover projects that have minimal impact on the aquatic environment. Organizations will often design their project to have limited environmental impact in order to qualify for a quicker decision under the general permit program. Approximately 90 percent of all activities are authorized by general permits.

Letters of Permission

Another type of individual permit is a letter of permission which also provides for a quick review. It can be used for projects that have no controversy and where a state water quality certification has been issued. Letters of permission are issued quicker than a standard permit, but not as fast as a general permit.

The average time to reach a decision on all types of applications is 30 days. However, there are some cases that will require additional time to resolve, particularly those involving endangered species, historic properties, and environmental concerns. In a typical year the Corps makes 90,000 permit decisions.