Dredge and Fill Fact Sheet
What is Dredge and Fill?
Dredging means excavation in wetlands or other surface waters or excavation in uplands
that creates wetlands or other surface waters. Filling means deposition of any material
(such as sand, dock pilings, or seawalls) in wetlands or other surface waters.
The surface waters regulated under the dredge and fill program include
bays, bayous, sounds, estuaries, lagoons, rivers, streams, the Gulf of
Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, most natural lakes, and all waters and
wetlands (natural or artificial).
Why are dredge and fill activities regulated?
Dredging and filling in the surface waters of Florida has been regulated since the early
1970's. This program was established under Chapter 403, F.S., to protect our surface
waters from degradation caused by the loss of wetlands and from pollution caused by
Alteration of wetlands and other surface waters may have a detrimental impact on the
environment. That impact could extend beyond the limits of the work site, affecting other
public or private property. Polluted waters can be conveyed off-site through connecting
waterbodies. The elimination or degradation of wetlands will cause a reduction of
beneficial functions provided by the wetlands.
Wetlands provide a number of important and beneficial functions. During periods of heavy
rainfall, wetlands serve as flood storage areas, where water can spread out without damage
to developed uplands. As the water passes through the wetlands, pollutants are filtered
out. Wetlands also stabilize shorelines, thereby preventing the harmful effects of
erosion. Wetlands produce the basic food material used by many fish and other aquatic
life. Some wetlands also serve as nursery grounds for fish and rookery areas for birds.
Many wildlife species, some of which are threatened or endangered, need to live in
wetlands for all or part of their life.
Filling wetlands can increase on-site and off-site flooding. Dredging and filling can also
degrade the quality of water during and after construction, and can reduce the populations
of fish and wildlife. In fact, it has been estimated that as much as 80% of our
recreationally and commercially important fish species are dependent upon wetlands for at
least some portion of their life cycle.
How is dredging and filling regulated?
The dredge and fill permit program is implemented by the Department
and five water
management districts (Northwest Florida, Suwanee River, St. Johns River, Southwest Florida, and South Florida). Dredging and
filling also is regulated by the federal government under a separate program administered
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps. The process is initiated by submitting a joint
(interagency) application to the Department or to one of the above water management
districts (Districts). The appropriate agency is determined by a division of
responsibilities specified in Operating Agreements between the agencies. Upon receipt of
the application by the Department or District, a copy also is forwarded to the Corps to
initiate the federal permitting process.
The state has phased out the dredge and fill permit program by combining it with the
management and storage of surface water (MSSW) permit program of the Districts creating a
new environmental resource permit (ERP) program under Part IV of Chapter 373 of the
Florida Statutes. The dredge and fill program described above will remain in place only
within the limits of the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD)for permitted
activities or applications deemed complete before November 1, 2010, and for
certain grandfathered activities in the rest of the state. The ERP program is in effect
throughout the state. The ERP program regulates dredging and filling in all wetlands and other
surface waters, and also regulates the aspects of the MSSW program such as water
quantity (flooding) and water quality (stormwater) in both wetlands and uplands.
Sovereign Submerged Land Approvals and the ERP Program
In addition to the regulatory (permit) program discussed above, permission to use any
sovereign (state-owned) submerged lands must also be addressed in the review process. For
activities located on sovereign submerged lands, the application to use these areas (known
as the proprietary authorization) will be reviewed in conjunction with the regulatory
application. Both forms of authorization will be requested in the same application, and
will be reviewed and granted or denied at the same time. This linkage will streamline the
review of the state regulatory and proprietary authorizations statewide for both the
Department and the WMDs, except within the NWFWMD.
Future Permit Streamlining Initiatives
To further streamline the above programs, the Department and the WMDs are developing rules
to allow us to delegate the ERP program to qualified local governments. All regulatory
authorizations under the ERP program, as well as any additional local permits, will be
granted or denied at the same time by the local government once they are granted
delegation. The Department and WMDs are also working with the Corps to reduce overlap in
state and federal regulatory permits. Until the local and federal programs are fully
linked with the WR and ERP programs described above, applicants are advised to work with,
and obtain all needed authorizations from, all of these agencies prior to dredging and
filling in wetlands or other surface waters.