As much as I wish we did not have to deal with Government when installing our projects, it is an unfortunate obstacle that we have to deal with. Fortunately, many of the pond types we install in a permaculture setting do not require complicated permits. That doesn’t mean you can just start digging without thinking about acquiring a permit.
The first place you may want to call is NRCS, which is the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This is a federal agency that can give you information about regulations, soil types in your area, and they even have a really handy guide for building a pond. Ask them for a copy of Ponds- Planning, Design, Construction.
If you are going to be building a pond in a creek, stream, or near wetlands, god help you, because permitting is going to be a nightmare. For this to happen, it is absolutely imperative that you get the proper permits, because if you don’t the fines and possibility of jail time is not worth the risk. If you still want to move forward with a pond in a creek or wetland, you will need a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to encroach on these bodies of water or wetlands. You will also need to contact DEP, or the Department of Environmental Protection for a permit as well.
If you are like me, and building a pond outside of wetlands or bodies of water, you will not need to contact the Army Corps of Engineers, but you may still need a permit from DEP. DEP has (5) different criteria for requiring a permit. Thankfully, my pond falls safely outside of their requirements. Most ponds, unless they are really big, or along a watercourse or wetland would fall outside their requirements.
Their requirements for ponds that need a permit are below:
1. The dam is located across a watercourse and the drainage area exceeds 100 acres.
2. The dam is located across a watercourse and the maximum depth of water, measured from the upstream toe of the dam to the top of the dam at maximum storage elevation is greater than 15 feet.
3. The dam is located across a watercourse and the impounding capacity (storage volume) at maximum storage elevation is greater than 50 acre feet.
4. The dam stores water, is not located on a watercourse, and has no contributory drainage, but the maximum depth exceeds 15 feet AND the maximum storage volume exceeds 50 acre-feet.
5. The dam is used for storage of fluids or semi-fluids other than water, the escape of which may result in air, water, or land pollution or in danger to persons of property.
Even if you fall outside the need for permitting by DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers, your local county conservation district may still require a permit. The county conservation district relates to dealing with runoff and soil erosion from the pond building process. I did need a permit from the CCD. I had to submit an application with a sketch of the site, and showing how I was going to control any erosion or runoff. I have a swale downslope, so it was not a problem. You can also use a silt fence. I also had to get a letter from DEP saying that I did not need a permit for the pond. This really upset me, because there is nothing in DEP’s literature that says I need their permission even if I fall outside their permit requirements. I feel that the CCD here is overstepping their authority, and stepping on my property rights. I drafted a pissed off e-mail, but I left it up as a draft, and decided to wait a day to send it. I didn’t think it was smart to send something while I was angry. I contacted DEP, and after telling them about my project for a couple of minutes, the guy took my e-mail down, and sent me an e-mail that same day giving their blessing. I was shocked that it was that simple.
I’m glad I didn’t piss off the CCD for no reason. So I took my sketch, the letter from DEP, my application, and a check for $300 to get my permit for sediment & erosion abatement. I was a little concerned that on the application it said that there is a 71 business day wait. 71 business days!!!!!! That’s 3 months! It turns out that mine will only take a few weeks, so I’m glad about that. Incidentally, you can pay triple the price, and they will speed up your permit, what a racket.
You should also check your local codes and zoning about pond building. Thankfully, I did not find anything here. After your pond is built, you may have to contact your states fish and boat commission drawdown the pond. I will worry about that one when I have a pond to drawdown. This process has really given me a glimpse into the many layers of bureaucracies that exist. It really is a pain in the neck, but it can be done without too much pain if you stay outside of DEP’s requirements.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.