The Department of State Lands issues two types of permits and authorizations:
- Removal-fill permits for removal or fill activity in waterways and wetlands
- Proprietary waterway authorizations for use of state-owned waterways
Removal-fill activity on state-owned waterways requires both.
The information on this webpage pertains to removal-fill permits only. For information on obtaining a waterway authorization (for a dock, floating home or marine industrial facility for example), go to the Use of State-Owned Waterways page.
Oregon's Removal-Fill Law (ORS 196.795-990) requires people who plan to remove or fill material in wetlands or waterways to obtain a permit from the Department of State Lands. This permit is broadly referred to as the “Removal-Fill Permit.” The law applies to all landowners, whether private individuals or public agencies.
The purpose of the law, enacted in 1967, is to ensure protection and the best use of Oregon’s water resources for home, commercial, wildlife habitat, public navigation, fishing and recreational uses.
In most cases, a permit is required if an activity will involve filling or removing 50 cubic yards or more of material in a wetland or waterway. For activities in state-designated Essential Salmonid Habitat, State Scenic Waterways and compensatory mitigation sites, a permit is required for any amount of removal or fill.
Removal-Fill Guide: Detailed information on process, timelines and requirements
The Removal-Fill Guide is designed to help applicants understand the process, timelines and other important topics related to the Department of State Lands' administration of Oregon's Removal-Fill Law. It is organized into nine chapters:
- Chapter 1: Working with the Aquatic Resource Management Program
- Chapter 2: When is a Permit Required?
- Chapter 3: What Activities are Exempt?
- Chapter 4: Planning Ahead
- Chapter 5: How to Apply for a Permit
- Chapter 6: Processing the Removal-Fill Permit Application
- Chapter 7: Emergency Permits
- Chapter 8: Compensatory Mitigation Planning for Wetlands and Tidal Waters
- Chapter 9: Monitoring the Compensatory Wetland Mitigation Site
The guide addresses existing laws and rules governing removal-fill activities in Oregon, and provides practical tips for complying with Department of State Lands' regulations. It explains agency practices, but does not take the place of or override regulations. The reader is cautioned to consult agency regulations first, and to rely on this guide to help understand those regulations and complete permit applications. Consultation with agency staff early in the project's development is strongly encouraged.
Removal-Fill Guide December 2016
To navigate the document more easily, be sure to use “bookmarks” in Adobe Reader.
Please note: Guide updates are made on a periodic basis. If you print or save this guide to your own computer, be sure to periodically check this website to make sure you are using the most recent version of the guide. The current version date is posted on the lower left corner of the Guide cover page.
Working with the Aquatic Resource Management Program
The Department of State Lands is organized into three programs: Aquatic Resource Management, Business Operations and Support Services, and Common School Fund Property. In addition, DSL oversees the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The removal-fill permit program is administered by the Aquatic Resource Management Program (ARM) whose mission is to conserve and protect waters of the state, including wetlands. The program provides a variety of services, including wetland determinations, wetland delineation report review, responding to wetland land use notices, conducting pre-application meetings, and providing assistance for removal-fill permit application processing.
The Aquatic Resource Management Program is organized in five regional teams: Metro, Northwest, Midwest, Southwest and Eastern. Each team is comprised of:
- Aquatic Resource Coordinator responsible for removal-fill permitting activities.
- Jurisdictional Coordinator responsible for preparing wetland determinations and reviewing wetland delineation reports.
- Proprietary Coordinator responsible for authorizing activities on state-owned waterways.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 1 – Working with the Aquatic Resource Management Program
When is a permit required?
Oregon's Removal-Fill Law (ORS 196.795-990) requires any person who plans to "remove or fill" material within "waters of the state" to obtain a permit from the Department of State Lands. Removal means taking rock, gravel, sand, silt, other inorganic substances, and large woody debris from the bed or banks of a waterway, or their movement by artificial means within the bed or banks, including channel relocation. Fill means the deposit by artificial means of any material (organic or inorganic) at any one location in the bed or banks. Waters of the state include wetlands on private and public land.
Types of "waters of the state" and jurisdictional limits:
- Pacific Ocean: extreme low tide to 3 miles out
- Tidal Bays and Estuaries: highest measured tide or upper edge of wetland
- Perennial Streams, Lakes and Ponds: to ordinary high water
- Intermittent Streams: to ordinary high water
- Wetlands: wetland boundary as determined by delineation report
- Artificial Ponds and Ditches: ordinary high water
- Artificial Wetlands: wetland boundary
- Reservoirs: normal operating pool level or upper edge of adjacent wetland
For most waters, a permit is required if a project will involve 50 cubic yards of fill and/or removal (cumulative) within the jurisdictional boundary. For activities in designated Essential Salmonid Habitat waters, State Scenic Waterways and designated compensatory mitigation sites, a permit is required for any amount of removal or fill. Removal is calculated on an annual basis. Fill is calculated on a cumulative basis.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 2 - When is a Permit Required?
Some activities in waters of the state are exempt from permit requirements of the Removal-Fill Law. Unless otherwise stated, the exemptions do not apply to State Scenic Waterways.
Each exemption has specific side boards and limitations. It is important to thoroughly review the exemptions before assuming an activity is exempt. You are strongly encouraged to contact an Aquatic Resource Coordinator for help in understanding these exemptions.
Exempt activities include:
- State Forest Management Practices
- Fills for Construction, Operation and Maintenance of Hydroelectric Dams and Water Diversion Structures
- Navigational Servitude (Maintenance of the Navigational Channel)
- Maintenance or Reconstruction of Water Control Structures
- Maintenance or Emergency Reconstruction of Roads and Transportation Structures
- Prospecting and Non-Motorized Activities within Essential Salmon Habitat and State Scenic Waterways
- Fish Passage and Fish Screening Structures in Essential Indigenous Anadromous Salmonid Habitat (ESH)
- Change in Point of Diversion for Surface Water
- Certain Removal of Large Wood Debris
- Certain Voluntary Habitat Restoration Activities
- Agricultural Exemptions
- Special Situations: Railroads, Tribal Lands and Environmental Remedial Actions
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 3 – What Activities are Exempt?
A well-planned project will result in an easier and faster permitting process. Important steps in the planning process include:
Identifying regulated waters on the project site. Early identification of regulated waters and their jurisdictional boundaries is essential for informed project planning. National and local wetland maps are helpful tools for early identification of wetlands, but they are not conclusive. While lakes and rivers are easily identifiable, regulated intermittent streams, channelized streams, ditches and ponds can be more difficult, and require additional investigation.
Retaining professional consultant services. Most projects involving wetlands and waterways require the technical expertise of wetland or environmental consultants to determine wetland boundaries, prepare functional assessments and develop mitigation plans.
Exploring alternatives to avoid and minimize impacts. Applications for removal fill permits must include a consideration of alternative sites, designs and construction methods showing that the proposed project is the practicable alternative with the least impact to wetlands and waterways.
Planning to mitigate for unavoidable impacts. If some impacts to wetlands or waterways are unavoidable, the applicant must propose mitigation to replace the functions and values lost as a result of the project.
Pre-design permit scoping. Most projects in wetlands and waterways require approval from several local, state and federal agencies. Early identification of all the permits and their requirements is essential to avoid costly redesign and project delays.
Pre-application meetings. The Department offers pre-application meetings to assist applicants in planning ahead for a smooth permitting process.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 4 – Planning Ahead
How to apply for a permit
There are four types of permits available to conduct work in wetlands and waterways:
Individual Permits (IPs) are issued for projects that:
- Have more than minimal adverse effects to waterways and wetlands
- Are more complicated and often involve more than one removal-fill activity
- May involve a substantial mitigation obligation
- Do not qualify for any of the General Authorizations or General Permits
IP applicants use the Joint Permit Application. The processing timeline is up to 120 days.
General Authorizations (GAs) are an expedited process for nine specific types of removal-fill activities that have minimal adverse effects on wetlands and waterways:
- Certain Minimal Disturbance Activities within Essential Salmon Habitat (ESH)
- Piling Placement and Removal within ESH
- Temporary Impacts to Non-Tidal Wetlands
- Waterway Bank Stabilization
- Certain Transportation-Related Activities
- Removing and Disposing of Sediment Behind Tidegates and within Hydraulically Closed Perimeters
- Waterway Habitat Restoration
- Wetland Ecosystem Restoration
- Recreational Placer Mining
GA applicants use the General Authorization Notification Form. The processing timeline is up to 30 days.
General Permits (GPs) authorize a group of activities that are substantially similar in nature, recurring or ongoing, and have predictable effects and outcomes. There are currently five GPs available for use by the public:
- Transportation-Related Structures
- Minor Removal-Fill Impacts to Certain Non-Tidal Wetlands
- Impacts to Vernal Pool Wetlands and Other Waters of the State in Jackson County, Oregon
- Maintaining Drainage to Protect Agricultural Land
- Navigational Access Maintenance Dredging
GP applicants use the Joint Permit Application. The processing timeline is up to 40 days for most GPs.
Emergency Permits (EPs) are rapid-approval authorizations for emergencies that pose a direct threat to human health, safety or substantial property, and where prompt removal-fill action is required to address the threat.
EP applicants use the Emergency Permit Application. Approval is given as quickly as possible in emergency situations.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 5 – How to Apply for a Permit
Processing the application
General Authorization Notifications
The Department reviews the GA notification within 30 days of receipt to confirm that it is complete and eligible.
Individual Permit and General Permit Applications
Step 1: Application Completeness Review: (up to 30 days for IPs/up to 15 days for GPs) The application is reviewed for completeness and applicable permit type. A completeness review letter is sent to the applicant documenting the review. If the application is deemed incomplete, a new complete application is required.
Step 2: Public Review Period: (30 days for IPs/15 days for GPs) If the application is complete, the public review period is initiated. A notice is sent to other agencies, adjacent property owners and other parties inviting comment on the application.
Step 3: Final Review: (up to 60 days for IPs/up to 10 days for GPs) Comments relevant to the decision-making process are considered. The applicant is invited to address relevant comments and any unresolved technical issues by providing additional information or revising the project.
Step 4: Permit Decision: The entire record is evaluated against the criteria for permit issuance and a permit is approved or denied. If more time is needed to address issues, the applicant may request an extension of the decision deadline.
Permit Renewal and Transfer
Permits may be issued for up to five years and may be renewed upon request. Before an IP expires, DSL will notify the permittee of the opportunity to renew the permit. Most GAs are issued for three years and are not renewable. Most GPs are issued for five years and are not renewable.
Modifying the Permit
Modification of an Individual Permit or a General Permit may be requested by the permittee or initiated by the Department.
Special Permit Situations
By law, projects governed by the Corrections Facilities Siting Authority, Environmental Quality Commission pertaining to solid waste landfills, Energy Facility Siting Council and the Economic Recovery Review Council follow a removal-fill permit process that is different than the standard IP process.
A permit or authorization decision may be appealed by the applicant or third parties that are “aggrieved” or “adversely affected” by the authorization decision. Applicants may appeal an incompleteness determination. Appeals are adjudicated through the contested case hearing process.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 6 – Processing the Removal-Fill Permit Application
Within the context of the Removal-Fill Law, an emergency is a natural or human-caused circumstance that poses an immediate threat to public health, safety or substantial property, including cropland. If the actions necessary to alleviate the threat involve 50 cubic yards or more of removal or fill below a waterway’s ordinary high water elevation or in wetlands (or any amount of removal or fill in designated Essential Salmon Habitat (ESH) or a State Scenic Waterway (SSW) a DSL permit is required and may be authorized as an expedited emergency permit (EP).
DSL applies all of the following considerations to assess whether an activity in wetlands or a waterway is eligible for an Emergency Permit (EP):
- Does the nature of the threat allow enough time to obtain some other form of permit or is prompt action required to reduce or eliminate the threat?
- Does the emergency pose a direct threat to public health or safety or substantial property, including but not limited to a dwelling, transportation structure, farm or cropland?
- Is the proposed project the minimal amount necessary to reduce or eliminate the threat and does it minimize, to the extent practicable, adverse impacts to wetlands and waterways?
Procedure for Obtaining an Emergency Permit
Step 1: The applicant must collect information including location; nature and cause of the threat; the condition of the waterway; and what action is necessary to alleviate the immediate threat. Remedial actions must be limited to what is necessary to make repairs or prevent irreparable harm, injury or damage to persons or property.
Step 2: Contact DSL to initiate the emergency permit process.
- During Business Hours: 503-986-5200 (west of the Cascades) 541-388-6112 (east of the Cascades)
- After Business Hours: Oregon Emergency Response: 1-800-452-0311
Step 3: Submit the emergency permit application materials as directed by the DSL Aquatic Resource Coordinator and as time allows. If time allows, DSL may conduct a site visit or ask another designated agency to do so.
Step 4: Qualifying activities will be issued a written permit as soon as key information is provided. DSL can issue a verbal approval in advance of the written approval where it is necessary to protect public health, safety or property.
After the emergency, DSL staff may visit the site upon completion of the emergency work, and may require that the project be modified after the initial emergency work is completed or require mitigation to compensate for any impacts to the affected wetland or waterway. A subsequent permit may be required to conduct remedial work.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 7 – Emergency Permits
You may wish to hire a private consultant who specializes in wetlands and waterways regulation to assist you with conducting a wetland delineation and/or removal-fill permit application and mitigation plan. Information to help you hire a qualified wetland consultant may be found in the Wetlands in Oregon fact sheet.
Many wetland professionals working in Oregon are certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist (PWS) or Wetland Professional in Training (WPIT) by the Society of Wetland Scientists’ Professional Certification Program. To be certified as a PWS or WPIT, a person must meet education and experience requirements, and adhere to a code of ethics and professional practice.
Removal-Fill Guide: Chapter 4 – Planning Ahead
Topics of interest