Changes to the Nationwide Permit Program go into effect soon, intended to reduce cost and time associated with obtaining project approval. Property owners, project developers and site managers should be aware of how the streamlined process will work.

On Jan. 6, 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reissued 50 nationwide permits (NWP), along with two new NWPs that are scheduled to take effect — and replace the existing set of NWPs — on March 19, 2017. Authorized under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, as well as Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, these NWPs streamline the permitting process for projects requiring the discharge of dredged or fill materials into U.S. waters or affecting the nation’s navigable waterways.

The reissued NWPs closely mirror the 2012 edition. The two new permits address the removal of low-head dams (NWP 53) and the construction and maintenance of “living shorelines” in coastal waters (NWP 54.)

Understanding NWP 53 and NWP 54

NWP 53 provides a simplified mechanism to permit the restoration of rivers and streams through the removal of obsolete low-head dams and improves overall public safety by removing in-water structures that could be dangerous to swimmers and users of small boats. Through this NWP, the USACE is encouraging the removal of these low-head dams, which are often old, poorly maintained and a threat to public safety.

NWP is focused on better controlling erosion in coastal areas. It provides a clear-cut mechanism to more easily permit the construction and maintenance of living shorelines, an alternative solution to protect coastal property from erosion while providing some aquatic habitat and water quality benefits. Living shorelines are a more natural alternative to the traditional hard-surface walls built to protect shorelines in the past.

These NWPs provide nationwide benefits by encouraging project managers to minimize potential impacts to national waters and to design projects within the scope of the NWPs, rather than applying for individual permits for activities that may more substantively impact the aquatic environment. The NWPs also benefit the regulated public by providing a convenient and streamlined permitting process compared to standard individual permits.

Next Steps

If your project hasn’t been permitted by the time the 2012 NWPs expire on March 18, applicants who would otherwise rely on the proposed nationwide permits may need to seek individual permits or an Individual Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the state while the regional conditions for each USACE district and state are re-established. This could involve a more complex and lengthy approval process.

USACE Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations, Maj. Gen. Ed Jackson, said, “Our goal in developing and authorizing nationwide permits every five years is to update them, and provide clarity and certainty for the regulated public while protecting the aquatic environment. Our nationwide permits are an important tool in encouraging project proponents to avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources.”

Unsure if your project is affected? Our team of wetland permitting and design specialists can keep your project moving forward with knowledge of the latest federal, state and local requirements regarding wetlands and other waters. If you’d like to learn more, connect with me LinkedIn – I’d be happy to help.

Sarah Soard is a project manager and the technical services manager for natural and cultural resources at Burns & McDonnell. She is certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist by the Society of Wetland Scientists and has more than 20 years of experience in environmental permitting.