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Division of Land Use Regulation
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

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Culverts

  • Overview
  • Freshwater Wetlands
  • Flood Hazard
  • Coastal
  • Tidelands

A Culvert is a device, usually a pipe or arched tunnel, used to channel water underneath a road, railway, or other type of embankment. Culverts can be made of many different materials, with concrete, coorigated steel and plastic, especially PVC, being the most common.

Activities, including the construction of a culvert, which may disturb special areas of the State that are regulated by the Department, may require an approval from the Division prior to construction. An area containing sensitive and endangered plant species for example, may be irreparably damaged by such activities. It is important therefore to closely examine a proposed project relative to the sensitive areas which may be impacted.

A culvert may require multiple approvals from the Division, depending on the special areas impacted by the project. If you don't know what special areas are on your site, please check out the before you buy, before you build section of this website for guidance on determining if your site has one of these regulated special areas on it.

For information on Land Use permit requirements for a culvert within specific "special areas", please click on each of the tabs above.*

*For impacts to Streams, Rivers, Lakes, Ponds, Flood Plains, Flood Way, Riparian Zones and other water body related areas, please click on the "Flood Hazard" tab. For impacts to special coastal areas, please click on the "Coastal" tab. For impacts to Freshwater Wetlands, click on the "Freshwater Wetlands" tab. Information on Tidelands can be found in the "Tidelands" tab.

The construction of a culvert within freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters requires a Freshwater Wetlands (FWW) permit. Three FWW General Permits (GPs) are available for this activity, a GP1, a GP10A, and a GP10B. To be eligible for a GP1, the culvert must be replaced in-kind with no new permanent disturbances to freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters. To be eligible for a GP10A or a GP10B, the total area of freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters disturbed cannot exceed one quarter acre.

General Permit 1 -- Maintenance and repair of existing features is for the in-kind replacement of an existing culvert. Activities under a GP1 shall not expand, widen, or deepen the previously authorized feature. Please click on the link above for more information.

General Permit 10A -- Very minor road crossings is for culverts that comply with one of the two scenarios listed below:

  1. The "Short Crossing Scenario" requires that the disturbance of freshwater wetlands and/or State open waters is no longer than 100 feet for each crossing and the total cumulative disturbance of freshwater wetlands, transition area, and State open waters is one quarter acre or less.
  2. The "Long Crossing Scenario" has no crossing length requirement, but instead requires that the total cumulative disturbance of freshwater wetlands, transition area, and State open waters is one eighth acre or less.

General Permit 10B -- Minor road crossings is for culverts that exceed the GP10A requirements, but which have less than one quarter acre of disturbance to freshwater wetlands, transition areas, and/or State open waters.

If the culvert cannot comply with the criteria for a GP1, a GP10A, or a GP10B, the applicant would need to apply for an Individual Permit (IP). An IP application would need to include a description as to why the project cannot be minimized to satisfy the General Permit criteria described in the links above.

The only potential qualifying Permit by Rule (PBR) associated with culverts is found at N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(b)4, repair of a lawfully existing structure.  However, there are three potential qualifying general permits for culverts. 

  • General Permit No. 2C allows for the crossing of water for agricultural purposes. 
  • General Permit No. 4 allows for the maintenance of a lawfully existing stormwater management structure by a public entity. 
  • General Permit No. 9 allows for the crossing of water that drains less than 50 acres.  All other culverts must apply for a Flood Hazard Area Individual Permit. 

Please note the Department discourages the use of culverts that eliminate the stream bottom and therefore encourages three-sided culverts.

The construction, maintenance, replacement, or repair of culverts generally requires a permit.  The proposed construction of a new culvert or work proposed to an existing culvert is usually undertaken in conjunction with a larger project such as a public or private road project or a residential or commercial development project and is reviewed in the context of the larger project. There are no coastal permits-by-rule or coastal general permits specific to culvert work.

Please refer to the “Jurisdiction” section of the "Coastal Permitting" section of the website to determine which areas regulated under the Coastal Permit Program Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:7-1.1 et seq.) and the Coastal Zone Management Rules (N.J.A.C. 7:7E-1.1 et seq.) occur on your site. The availability of certain exemptions or permits for a project depends on where your project is proposed.

If the project does not comply with the requirements for an exemption, the project will generally require a Waterfront Development, CAFRA, and /or wetlands permit.  Additional information regarding the Division’s coastal program can be found on the “Coastal Permitting” section of this website.  If necessary, please contact the Division’s Technical Support Center for further assistance.

The following exemptions may apply to your project-- 

  • The maintenance, repair, or replacement of culverts located within CAFRA jurisdiction may qualify for the exemption from the definition of public development if the activity is undertaken as maintenance, repair, or replacement of an existing and functioning railroad or related structure  not located on a beach or dune.  If the activity is not considered to be public development, a CAFRA permit would not be required.  Please refer to N.J.A.C. 7:7-2.1(b)2iv.
  • The maintenance, repair, or replacement of culverts located within CAFRA jurisdiction may qualify for the exemption if the activity is undertaken by a government entity located within the existing public right-of-way as part of a routine reconstruction, a substantially similar functional replacement, or the maintenance or repair of public highways.

Tidelands, also known as riparian lands, are all those lands now or formerly flowed by the mean high tide of a natural waterway; that is to say any land that is currently or was previously covered by tidal waters.  The State of New Jersey, and therefore the people of New Jersey, owns all Tidelands except for those to which it has already sold its interest in the form of a riparian grant.  It is important to note that the State generally does not own artificial waterways such as lagoons however, the State does claim those lands within a lagoon that were flowed by the mean high tide of a natural waterway which existed prior to the creation of the lagoon.

For culverts that are proposed in a tidelands area, a tidelands license may be required if the activities are taking place at or below the mean high water line of a tidal waterway and/or a tidelands grant may be required if the activities are taking place in an area that is currently landward of the mean high water line but was, at some point, flowed by the tide.

A tidelands license is a short term revocable rental document to use tidelands generally for structures such as docks, bulkhead extensions, mooring piles, and other temporary structures as well as for dredging projects. Licenses are project specific and expire after a finite term ranging from one to ten years. Most licenses may be renewed.

A riparian grant, or tidelands grant, is a deed from the State of New Jersey selling its tidelands. Tidelands grants are generally only issued for lands that have already been filled in and are no longer flowed by the tide.

For more information on tidelands instruments, please see the tidelands section of this website.

For information and instruction on how to determine whether you are in an area that may require either a license or a grant, or for information how to apply for Tideland instruments please see the "Before you Build, Before you Buy" webpage.

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Last Updated: January 9, 2014