401/404 Permits (Brief Overview)

What exactly are we talking about when we talk about environmental permits?

Let’s break this down.

To explain this permit we are going to break this down into laymen’s terms, and pretend that we are representing a city who wants to build a bike lane.

This bike lane is planned to cross over multiple seasonal swales (depressions in the land that during rainy season may fill with water). Instead of using bike lane bridges to cross over the swales they have decided to use culverts that will direct water underneath the bike lane and back to another swale on the other side.

Unfortunately, downstream of these swales are many endangered species.

It is likely that the city will have to obtain a 401/404 Environmental Permit from the Water Board. This construction has a high risk level for contaminating crucial habitats downstream. A few years out before the project can begin, the city gets in contact with the Water Board to acquire the appropriate permits that will allow them to begin construction.

A 404 Environmental Permit will be required from the EPA if your project has to dredge or fill materials into any US waterway. This includes activities such as “fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports) and mining projects” (EPA).

A 401 permit is regulated by the State Water Board to protect US waterways. This permit has an emphasis on protecting wetlands, riparian areas, and headwaters. It is the responsibility of the state to protect sensitive species, maintain healthy habitats, and preserve waterway integrity (CWA).

The permits acquired tell the city what exactly they can’t do during construction in order to prevent habitat destruction.

The contractor and construction teams then hire the appropriate professionals to help them adhere to their permit. Such professionals would include wildlife biologists that constantly monitor and assess the species potentially affected, and stormwater managers (that’s us!) that prevent and minimize the levels of pollutants entering the waterway as a result of the construction.

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