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

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Stream Cleaning

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

Stream cleaning activities are sometimes necessary within watercourses that have become encumbered with natural debris, such as fallen trees, or when siltation has become a problem.  Stream cleaning projects may result in impacts to “special areas” that are regulated by the Department and therefore may require multiple approvals from the Division.  Special areas can be rudimentarily determined using the Department’s online mapping service, NJ-GeoWeb.  It is important to closely examine a proposed project relative to the sensitive areas which may be impacted. 
Please be advised, Division of Land Use Regulation permits are not required for the removal of garbage by hand from a watercourse.

The above tabs provide additional information on permit requirements relating to stream cleaning projects.  For impacts to streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, flood plains, flood ways, riparian zones, please see the "Flood Hazard" tab. For impacts to special coastal areas, please see the "Coastal" tab. For impacts to Freshwater Wetlands, see the "Freshwater Wetlands" tab.  Information on Tidelands can be found by selecting the "Tidelands" tab.

Stream Cleaning is normally considered a regulated activity within State open waters and/or Freshwater Wetlands. Depending on the scope of the project however, simple hand removal of debris within a stream such as snags and fallen trees, garbage, etc. using hand tools does not require a Freshwater Wetlands permit. If you are considering this option, please be aware that disturbance of the stream channel or banks, including sediment removal may require a permit, as does removal of debris with machinery, if the activity is regulated under N.J.A.C. 7:7A-2.2.

If you plan on using machinery, cutting live wetland vegetation and/or disturbing soils such as the stream channel or banks, then it is likely that a Freshwater Wetlands permit would be required.

If the proposed stream cleaning is being performed by a municipality or other government agency, then a General Permit 26 - Minor channel or stream cleaning for local government agencies is required. Please click on the link above for more information.

If the proposed stream cleaning is NOT being performed by a municipality or other government agency, or if your activity does not conform to the requirements of a GP26, then you 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 GP 26 link above.

Performing a stream cleaning entails desilting or desnagging a channel.  It is meant for the removal of unconsolidated sediment.  It does not entail making a channel deeper or wider than it previously was, as this could result in worsened flooding on properties located downstream of the area to be cleaned. 

Cleaning a stream is a regulated activity under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules, and as such, an authorization of some type under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules.  If the project is regulated pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management rules at N.J.A.C. 7:7, then no separate Flood Hazard approval is required.  In these instances, the applicant need only submit a report and plans demonstrating compliance with the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules as part of the coastal permit application.

Assuming there is no jurisdiction pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management rules, authorization for a stream cleaning may be authorized under a Flood Hazard Area General Permit 1 (FHAGP1).  Please refer to N.J.A.C. 7:13-8.3 for specific standards that must be met regarding the FHAGP1. Presented below are special notes concerning the FHAGP1.

N.J.A.C. 7:13-8.3 (FHAGP1) – In order to qualify for this general permit, the applicant must be a government entity.  Please note that if the applicant has already obtained a Freshwater Wetlands Statewide General Permit 26, then an additional Flood Hazard Area General Permit 1 is not required. 

Should the applicant not qualify for the FHAGP1, then the applicant must obtain a formal flood hazard area individual permit, subject to the technical standards of Subchapters 9, 10, and 11 of the rules.

In addition to the FHAGP1 and the flood hazard area individual permit, the applicant may also consider Permit by Rule (PBR) N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(a)5.  This PBR is not specific to desilting or desnagging operations.  However, it is useful to allow machinery to remove major obstructions from a channel.  Such obstructions include fallen trees, abandoned vehicles, furniture, and other large debris that can not be removed by hand.  Unlike the FHAGP1, the applicant here need not be a government entity.

The applicant may also consider Permit by Rule (PBR) N.J.A.C. 7:13-7.2(d)3.  This permit by rule allows for the removal of sediment by hand/shovels/hydraulic pumps/hoses or other similar equipment within 100 feet of a culvert, bridge or stormwater discharge pipe.  It should be noted that this work must be done under the supervision of the public entity that is responsible for maintaining the roadway and/or public property.

Stream cleaning includes sediment, debris, and garbage removal from a channel or stream in an effort to eliminate flow obstructions and/or desnag the stream.  There are no exemptions, Permits-by-rule, General Permits-by-Certification, or General Permits specific to stream cleaning activities.  However, several General Permits are available for specific dredging activities.  If the proposed dredging project does not meet the requirements of one of the available General Permits for dredging, a CAFRA, Coastal Wetlands, and/or Waterfront Development Individual Permit may be required.  The “Jurisdiction” tab of the "Coastal Areas" webpage can help you determine which areas of your site may be regulated.  For more information on dredging, please refer to the “dredging” section of the website.

In addition, please refer to the section on Flood Hazard Areas and Freshwater Wetlands for information on the cleaning of a fluvial stream or stream cleaning projects which disturb freshwater wetlands, transition areas and/or unmapped coastal wetlands.

Please contact the Division’s Technical Support Center at (609) 777-0454 should you require further assistance.

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.

The disposal of materials from stream cleaning activities that is proposed on land, in an area that is currently landward of the mean high water line but was, at some point flowed by the tide, may require a tidelands grant.

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 4, 2016