Permit Requirements and Where to Get Them

Overview

Government agencies have jurisdiction over creeks.  Several governmental agencies have jurisdiction over activities that impact creeks.  This is because water flowing through individual properties is not “owned” by the property owner, but is for the benefit of all, and also represents a hazard that warrants specific regulation. Furthermore, the unique habitat represented by the creek is protected by State and Federal laws. 

Confusing permit regulations. The current set of Local, State and Federal regulations can be confusing, leaving creekside residents not knowing exactly what they are allowed to do to protect and preserve their property.   The potential consequences of doing work in the creek without proper permits can range from requirements to return the creek to its original condition to criminal citations and fines.

Get a Professional AssessmentTo be sure that work that you are contemplating on your creek property is properly permitted, as well as to be sure that it’s performed in the most effective and environmentally beneficial way, it’s best to obtain a professional assessment before you begin.   Agencies that can help you by performing a site assessment include Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as professional environmental consulting firms.

In General

For most work in or near a stream channel or stream banks, you must notify permitting agencies of the work to prevent any violations and to ensure best management practices (BMPs) are properly implemented, but there are a few types of stream maintenance activities that can be done without permits.

Activities that DO NOT require permits include:
1. Trash removal that is in the creek. 
2. Minor trimming of vegetation on the creek bank.

 

Activities that DO require permits:
1. Debris removal (other than man made materials) from the streambed
2. Significant vegetation or tree removal
3. Alternation of the creek bank or creek bed
4. Dredging of the channel
5. Placement of fill or riprap, or building any kind of structure such as a wall, deck, building.

Special note regarding EMERGENCY situations:

Physical Danger to Life and Limb: Call 911

Emergency Property Risk:  Be aware that regulatory agencies define property-related “emergencies” very specifically, and have special procedures for issuing emergency permits – click here to read more about emergency creek/flood work.


Agency Jurisdiction for Permits for Creek Bank Repair and Maintenance Work

The following provides a brief summary of the primary applicable regulations, and the agencies that provide permits:

Federal:  Since San Luis Creek is considered “waters of the United States”, The Army Corps of Engineers has authority under the Clean Water Act (Section 404) for activities that involve placement of fill (including riprap) within the stream channel.

State: Both the State of California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) and California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) have authority over work in stream channels.  The RWQCB must certify that the placement of any fill (Section 404 permit required by the Corps) will not violate Federal of State water quality standards under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The DFG authority stems from Section 1603 of the Fish and Game Code, and work within a stream channel requires a Streambed Alteration Agreement.  Please see:http://www.dfg.ca.gov/1600/index.html

Local Requirements/Resources: Work on stream banks is also subject to local regulations depending on the type of work proposed. Construction of any structure (e.g. wall, deck, building) in proximity to the creek is subject to local building permits and these projects should begin with a visit to the County of San Luis Obispo Building Department.

Checklist for Potential Permit Requirements

Does Your Project:
City/Co. Planning & Building/CEQA Reviews
Regional Water Quality Control Board
California Dept. of Fish and Game
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service /NMFS
Involve creek bank stabilization or erosion control?
x
x
x
x
x
Require the removal of riparian or other wetland vegetation?
x
x
x
x
Involve planting riparian vegetation?
x
x
x
x
Impact native plants, wildlife or fisheries?
x
x
x
x
Result in stormwater discharge into a creek?
x
x
x
x
x
Divert or obstruct the natural flow or change the any portion of the creek?
x
x
x
x
x
Involve building a structure next to a creek?
x
x
x
x
x
Use materials from a streambed?
x
x
x
x
x
Require the disposal or deposition of debris, waste, or any other material that could pass into a creek?
x
x
x
x
x
Involve grading or fill near a creek?
x
x
x
x
x
Involve a bridge or culvert?
x
x
x
x
x
Involve a septic leach field near a creek?
x
x
x
Require a water well near a creek?
x
x
x
Remove water from a creek for usage?
x
x
x
x
x
Require that hazardous materials be generated and/or stored on site?
x
x
x
           
Reference: ADAPTED FROM http://www.urbancreeks.org/UCC_Permitting_Guide.pdf

Contacts for Permit Requirements

Agency Address Website Phone
County of San Luis Obispo 1055 Monterey Street San Luis Obispo, CA. 93408 805.781.5000
Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District 545 Main Street, Suite B-1 Morro Bay, CA. 93442 805.772.4391
City of San Luis Obispo 990 Palm Street San Luis Obispo, CA. 93401 805.781.7100
California Coastal Comm. 45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000 San Francisco 94105-2219 415.904.5260
California Dept. of Fish and Game, Region 4 1234 E. Shaw Avenue Fresno CA. 93710 559.234.4005
Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board 895 Aerovista Place, Suite 101 San Luis Obispo CA. 93401 805.549.3147
US Army Corps of Engineers P.O. Box 532711 Los Angeles CA. 90053 213.452.3908
US Fish and Wildlife Service 2493 Portola Road, Suite B Ventura CA. 93003 805.644.1766