US Army Corps of Engineers
Portland District

Why We're Involved

The objective of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters. In support of this goal, the CWA prohibits the discharge of dredged or fill material into wetlands, streams, and other waters of the United States, unless such a discharge is authorized by a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or other approved state agency, under CWA Section 404. When there is a proposed discharge, all appropriate and practicable steps must first be taken to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources.

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Regulatory offices is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions.

The United States Congress authorizes the Corps to regulate activities that may impact wetlands and waters of the United States. This authority is granted and defined under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 and Section 404 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, also known as the Clean Water Act.

The Rivers and Harbors Act focuses on protecting navigable waterways. The Clean Water Act requirement applies to valuable aquatic areas throughout the U.S., including wetlands and streams. Even though individual changes to wetlands and other waters of the United States may be minor, the cumulative effect of multiple changes can result in damage to these valuable resources.

The Portland District Regulatory Branch has jurisdiction over the state of Oregon, southern Washington ports and restoration projects in the Columbia River estuary funded by the Bonneville Power Administration.

Planning Your Project

As an applicant, you can make the permitting process easier by first taking time to consider how your project will impact the environment. One of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ goals is to help you understand what you should be thinking about while you’re planning and designing your project, before you apply for a permit. Something as easy as changing the types of materials you propose to use, or the time of year you plan to do the work can affect the time it takes to review your permit application.

Corps Authority

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for protecting many of the nation's aquatic environments including oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and wetlands. These areas are referred to by the Corps as waters of the United States. Work in, over or under waters of the United States may require a permit from the Corps. Permits, licenses, or similar authorizations may also be required by other federal, state, and local agencies.

There are three primary laws under which the Corps regulates activities impacting waters of the United States: the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Clean Water Act and the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899

Section 10 governs work impacting navigable waters. Examples of activities requiring Section 10 permits:

  • Construction or installation of piers, wharves, bulkheads, dolphins, marinas, ramps, floats, overhanging decks, buoys, boat lifts, jet ski lifts, intake structures, outfall pipes, and cable or pipeline crossings.
  • Dredging and excavation.
  • Overhead transmission lines, tunnels, or directional bore holes.

See a list of navigable waters Oregon.

Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act

Section 103 provides the authority to issue permits for transporting dredged material excavated from navigable waters of the United States to be dumped into ocean waters. This includes dredged material shipped by truck to a port site for ocean disposal.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act

Section 404 regulates the placement of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States. Examples of activities requiring Section 404 permits:

  • Depositing fill, dredged, or excavated material.
  • Grading or mechanized land clearing of wetlands.
  • Ditch excavation activities in wetlands and associated discharge of dredged materials into wetlands.
  • Fill for residential, commercial, or recreational developments.
  • Construction of revetments, groins, breakwaters, beach enhancement, jetties, levees, dams, dikes, and weirs.
  • Placement of riprap and road fills.
  • Bank and stream channel stabilization projects.

Note: You do not generally need a permit under Section 404 for activities associated with normal farming, ranching, and forestry activities that are established and ongoing. Some of these activities include plowing, cultivating, minor drainage, and harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products. To find out whether specific activities are exempt, contact your local Corps office.

Our Review Components

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Regulatory Program is to protect the nation's aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions. 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, Native American tribes, 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 United States. The Corps strives to make its permit decisions in a timely manner that minimizes impacts to the regulated public.

The Corps’ permit application process gives applicants the opportunity to demonstrate that they have avoided and minimized impacts to waters of the United States as much as possible. If it’s shown that impacts cannot be completely avoided and minimized, the Corps may require mitigation to offset those impacts. The information in this module tells you what permits are available on both a nationwide and regional basis, details the Corps’ needs regarding your plans to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources, and how to compensate when impacts are unavoidable.

Watch this video that explains four components of the application process that often confuse applicants

Related Laws and Resources

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers receives its authority from the following Federal Laws: Section 404 of the Clean Water Act; Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act; and Section 103 of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. Before a Department of the Army permit is issued or verified, the Corps must ensure that we have met all of our obligations under any related federal and state laws. This means that the Corps may need to request additional information from the applicant or the applicant may need to supply additional information to another agency. In some cases, it is solely the applicant’s responsibility to obtain other authorizations.

The amount and complexity of the additional information needed depends on the type and location of the project. When related to the Corps authorization, the Corps will make you aware of other agencies’ requirements as soon as possible and will work with you to fulfill those requirements as expeditiously as possible.