Do You Need a Permit to Restore a Shoreline?
Disclaimer: Other approvals may be required from federal, state, and local units of government, including, but not limited to, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, watershed districts, water management organizations, counties, townships, and cities.
Though we service other states and regions, the following information relates only to shorelines located in the State of Minnesota.
The following information is our attempt at simplifying a very complex set of rules regarding various types of shoreline restoration/construction projects. If you’d like to view the “official” set of rules regarding permits, please visit https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/permits/water/answers.html
You should always check with your local branch of government and/or the DNR prior to the commencement of a project within or near your shoreline.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of whether or not you need a permit, you must understand your OHWL.
What is OHWL? OHWL is an acronym for Ordinary High Water Level. The OHWL is merely a reference to the elevation of where the water level commonly is during periods of high water.
How do I know where my OHWL is? Most commonly, the OHWL is the point at which the natural vegetation changes from predominately aquatic vegetation to predominantly terrestrial vegetation. For example, on a lake or wetland shore the OHWL is commonly the highest water level that was maintained for a sufficient period of time to leave clear evidence on the adjacent landscape. If we’re talking about rivers, streams, or creeks then the OHWL is usually the elevation of the top of the bank of the channel. If you’re talking about a reservoir or flowages with controlled water levels, then the OHWL is the operating elevation of the normal summer pool.
Contact your local area hydrologist if you need additional help in determining the OHWL for your specific lake, river, stream, or creek.
Ok, now that we know what the OHWL is, and where it is, let’s talk permits.
Do you need a DNR permit to install riprap?
Riprap is the term used for natural rock placed along a shoreline (on top of filter fabric) to control or stop erosion.
A permit from the DNR is not required if the following conditions are satisfied:
- Installation is allowed only where there is a clear need to stop existing or continuing erosion.
- The riprap must not cover existing vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes, etc.
- The riprap must be made of natural rock, 6 to 30 inches in diameter.
- Crushed rock, gravel or filter fabric must be placed underneath the riprap.
- Riprap must not be more than 6-feet waterward of the Ordinary High Water Level.
- The riprap must conform to the natural alignment of shore and may not obstruct navigation, or the flow of water.
- Minimum finished slope must be no steeper than 3:1 (horizontal to vertical) when possible.
- Riprap covers no more than 200-feet of shoreline along lakes and wetlands, or along streams – less than 5 times the average width of the affected watercourse.
- The site must not be a posted fish spawning area, designated trout stream, nor along the shore of Lake Superior.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit for riprap installation (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications at DNR Division of Waters forms.
Do you need a DNR permit to remove or grade the ridge of soil pushed up along your shoreline (i.e. an ice ridge), caused by ice action?
For most projects regarding work done above the ordinary high water level (where most ice ridges form) a permit is not required. Under the following conditions a permit would not be required from the DNR for ice ridge removal or grading:
- The ice ridge resulted from ice action within the last year.
- No more than 200-feet of your shoreline is affected.
- All ice ridge material (i.e. the soil) that is composed of muck, clay or organic sediment is hauled offsite and/or reused above the ordinary high water level. If this soil is reused within your shoreline, silt-fencing must be used within the water to prevent contamination to the body of water.
- All ice ridge material (i.e. the soil) that is composed of sand or gravel is returned to its original location and/or graded to conform to the original shape and elevation of your shoreline
- No additional excavation or soil is added to your shoreline.
- All exposed areas of soil are immediately stabilized to prevent erosion.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit to correct the damage caused by shifting ice (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications at DNR Division of Waters forms
Do you need a DNR permit to add beach sand to your shoreline?
Under the following conditions a permit would not be required from the DNR for the act of adding additional sand to your shoreline:
- Beach sand does not cover existing vegetation.
- The sand used is clean, inorganic sand or gravel (free of pollutants and nutrients).
- You are not adding more than a 6-inch thick blanket of sand.
- Area of sand cannot measure more than 50-feet along your shoreline, or one-half the entire width of your shoreline (whichever is less).
- Area of sand is no more than 10-feet waterward of the ordinary high water level.
- The site is not a posted fish spawning area.
- Installation of sand or gravel may only be repeated once at the same location, not exceeding the maximum amount and dimensions of the original sand blanket (as described above). In other words, you cannot continually keep adding 6-inches of sand along your shoreline whenever you wish, and you can never exceed the maximum area and depth of sand and explained above.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit to add beach sand to your shoreline (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications here: DNR Division of Waters forms
Do you need a DNR permit to restore your shoreline by using natural plantings?
A permit from the DNR is not required to perform bank or shoreline restoration using willow wattles, willow posts, brush mattressing, brush layering, fiber roll breakwaters, plant carpets, root wads, and/or other natural materials if they are installed by hand for the purpose of shoreline restoration work if:
- The project is approved by DNR staff and is designed or reviewed by the local soil and water conservation district or the local watershed district.
- The design does not interfere with navigation or other riparian uses of your lake or body of water.
- The project is done during a time of year when it will not interfere with fish spawning or the nesting of protected birds.
- Native plantings are used.
- If aquatic plants are to be used, an aquatic plant management permit must be obtained.
- The waterward encroachment is the minimum necessary for the project, and;
- A maintenance plan is developed for the project. A copy of the plan must be submitted for review to the Department’s Area Fisheries office.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit for the installation of native plantings (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications at
Do you need a DNR permit to add fill in your lake, river, or wetland?
State rules specifically prohibit placement of fill into a body of water with the intentions of creating additional land.
Should you intend to add fill to an existing upland area along your shoreline, there may be restrictions on how much fill you can add with or without a permit. To determine whether or not this will be allowed and/or if a permit is required/available, it’s best to reach out to your city or county planning & zoning authority.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit to add fill to your shoreline (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications at DNR Division of Waters forms
Do you need a DNR permit to install a boat ramp?
No, typically a permit is not required for a private boat ramp, but you must make certain that you meet the following conditions:
- Your boat ramp is constructed only of gravel, natural rock, concrete, steel matting, or another inorganic material.
- Ramp must be no more than 7-inches in thickness, 12-feet in width (along the shore), and 10-feet waterward of the shoreline, or into a water depth of 4-feet (whichever is less).
- No more than 5-yards of excavation is required, and no more than 5-yards of fill is required. Any base material used must consist of crushed rock, gravel, clean sand, or small stone.
- Site is not a posted fish spawning area or on a federally designated wild and scenic river.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit for your proposed boat ramp (and you live in MN), you can find permit applications at DNR Division of Waters forms
Boathouses & boat storage structures
Do you need a DNR permit to build or repair a boathouse or structure adjacent to a lake or river?
The short answer is “yes, almost always.” Even something as simple and routine as a fresh coat of paint, or replacing a few deck boards, can require a permit
If you propose to construct, reconstruct, or even just “maintain” an on-land or in-water boat house (or any other structure) with any portion of the structure below the ordinary high water level (including column supports) along your shoreline, I recommend calling your local city or county planning/zoning authority. Any activity related to these types of structures can get extremely tricky!
Some additional info related to boathouses:
Boat storage structures that are located below the ordinary high-water level have been prohibited in Minnesota since the 1970s. The goal is to eventually eliminate their private occupation of public waters and to encourage the removal of existing structures that do not serve the public interest. However, Minnesota Statutes Chapter 103G.245, Subdivision 4, was amended by the 2006 legislature to address the need for repairs and replacement of boat storage structures that have been in place since 1979 and which are deemed to be historical.
The legislation allows current boat storage structures to be repaired, replaced, or consolidated if the following six conditions can be met:
- A Public Waters Work Permit is obtained from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the permit is recorded in the real estate records of the office of the county recorder or registrar of title in the county in which the property is located.
- The local unit of government that has zoning authority must approve the proposed repair, replacement, or consolidation.
- Documentation must show that the structure is currently used for boat storage and has been in continuous existence prior to 1979.
- The boat storage structure must not include guest quarters, habitable space, living quarters, or sewage facilities.
- The total area of the replacement structure cannot exceed the total area of the in-place structure(s). The height of the replacement structure cannot be increased more than 1 foot unless multiple structures are being consolidated into a single structure and the same roof pitch results in an increased height.
- Any replacement of materials located below the OHWL must not be toxic to aquatic life.
After reading the above conditions, if you feel that you need a permit for your proposed in-water boathouse reconstruction, or repairs (and you live in MN), you should first contact the DNR by phone to discuss potential permit requirements. You will almost certainly be directed to contact additional regulatory institutions (i.e. your local city or county planning/zoning authority being one of them).
Should you wish to construct a new boathouse, you should first contact your local city or county planning/zoning authority, not the DNR. Note: You will almost certainly be denied a permit to construct a new boathouse.
Do you need a DNR permit to build a bridge over a stream or creek that flows through your land?
A permit from the DNR is almost always required if you intend to build a permanent bridge across a river or creek. Never construct a bridge over a navigable river or creek without first contacting your state’s DNR.
A permit from the DNR is not required to build a temporary bridge across a stream if the following conditions are met:
- The stream bank can support your bridge without pilings, foundations, culverts, or excavation.
- Nothing is placed in the bed of the stream.
- The bridge is capable of being removed for maintenance and flood damage prevention.
- The bridge is firmly anchored at one end, and can swing away during flooding.
- The lowest portion of the bridge is at least three feet above the ordinary high water level on navigable streams.
- The bridge construction is consistent with floodplain, shoreland, and wild & scenic river ordinances.
Do you need a DNR permit to build a retaining wall along your shoreline?
A permit from the DNR is typically only required if the retaining wall is proposed below the ordinary high water level.
We almost never recommend retaining walls along shorelines (especially anywhere close to the ordinary high water level! Why?
- Because of the inherent moisture level within and near your shoreline, there is commonly an extraordinarily large amount of ground movement during freeze/thaw cycles. This makes it extremely challenging for your retaining wall to remain level and square throughout the years.
- In the winter months, a retaining wall gives the slowly expanding sheet of ice something solid and vertical to push against. This is bad news for your retaining wall when it comes to ice jacking. Your new retaining will lose this battle! You’re much better off with a properly riprapped and sloped shoreline where the ice can gradually slide up onto the shoreline, rather than pushing directly against a vertical wall.
Other helpful links on the Minnesota DNR site:
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