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Dredging and Grading Project Permitting

Waterway protection


For each project type below, if an exemption or a general permit is available, you will find a link to a checklist of requirements. If your project does not meet exemption eligibility criteria, review the general permit checklist. If your project does not meet general permit eligibility criteria, you must apply for an individual permit.

To start a permit application, use the DNR Water ePermitting System. A WAMS ID is required.

To determine if a local permit or a federal permit is required for your project, contact your city or county zoning authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – St. Paul District Office.

For some waterway projects, a water quality certification (WQC) may be required from DNR as the certifying authority under the Clean Water Act Section 401. WQC requests will be considered complete through a waterway permit application and the DNR Waterways Program typically reviews WQC requests in parallel with permit review. See WQC Request Completeness Elements for the full list of requirements. 

State law requires a landowner with a project site that is 1 acre or larger in size to obtain a construction site stormwater permit. To submit a notice of intent, visit the DNR Stormwater Runoff Permitting page.

Applicable state statutes and code include ss. 30.19 and. 30.20, Wis. Stats., chs. NR 341, NR 345, NR 346, and NR 347, Wis Adm. Code.


This activity refers to grading or removing soil from the bank of a navigable waterway. If you are proposing to disturb less than 10,000 square feet (0.23 acres) of area, DNR does not have jurisdiction and you should seek approval from your local zoning office. If you propose to disturb 1 acre or more of material, seek permitting from the DNR Storm Water Program.

Grading Exemptions

These projects are exempt from needing a DNR grading permit:

  • Construction or repair of public highways
  • Agricultural uses
  • Projects in Milwaukee County
  • Disturbance of less than 10,000 square feet of material
  • The project is authorized under a permit issued by the county under its shoreland zoning ordinance

Grading Permitting Options

If you are grading or removing more than 10,000 square feet (0.23 acres) but less than 1 acre of material on the bank of a navigable or public waterway a DNR permit is required.



Dredging projects to remove material from lakebed or streambed can pose a variety of risks to water quality and the aquatic environment.  They can also be logistically challenging and expensive to implement. Dredging projects may require contaminated sediment sampling, in-water sediment control practices, and dredge spoil disposal techniques.

Depending on the overall scope of the project, other DNR permits may be required for dredging. Mechanical or hydraulic dredging activities may require a DNR Wastewater permit to discharge carriage water, interstitial (pore) water, or other discharge waters. 

Exempt Dredging Activities

If you meet any of the exemption standards in linked statute or in the exemption checklist, you do not need a DNR Waterways permit.

Agricultural Dredging Exemptions

Farm Drainage Ditches. A dredging permit is not required for dredging in a farm drainage ditch, defined as an artificial channel which drains water from lands which are used for agricultural purposes and does not have a history of being a navigable stream prior to ditching. A dredging permit is not required for dredging in a farm drainage ditch. 

Drainage District Maintenance.  A dredging permit is not required for dredging in a drainage district drain with a history of being a navigable stream prior to ditching if:

  1. The drain is in a DATCP recognized drainage district
  2. The drainage district is the project proponent. 

Duck Creek Drainage District. Dredging for DATCP purposes is exempt from DNR permitting. See ch. 30 stats for more information.

Artificial Waterway Dredging

A dredging permit is not required if a water body does not have a history of being a lake or stream or of being connected to a lake or stream.

De Minimis Exemption

If you are removing a total of less than 2 cubic yards of material (about one small dump truck full) in any given year you do not need a permit. Piers and boat lifts may be installed and beach maintenance may be completed without a permit if dredging falls under the annual limit of 2 cubic yards. 

Great Lakes Shoreline Maintenance Exemption

A dredging permit is not required for shoreline grooming and leveling or vegetation maintenance along the shorelines on the Great Lakes. The activities must be authorized by riparian owners and all other exemption checklist requirements must be followed.  

Manual Dredging

A dredging permit is not required for a riparian owner to annually remove up to 100 square feet by 1 foot deep of material by hand or with a hand-held device and all other exemption checklist requirements are followed. 

Dredging Permitting Options: Pre-Application Meeting Required

Dredging permit options are sorted by activity types below.

The dredging pre-application information form is a good starting place for project planning, and the DNR recommends talking with private consultants or contractors who are familiar with dredging projects and asking for cost estimates. The DNR recommends you plan your project enough to determine the estimated cost, volume of material, methods to be used, and disposal methods and location, if applicable, before requesting a pre-application meeting. 

A pre-application meeting is required prior to submitting a general or individual permit application for dredging projects. Applicants should send the completed form below to the correct water management specialist with a pre-application meeting request. The form information will help determine the need for contaminated sediment sampling and the best permitting option.

Contaminated Sediment Sampling May Be Required

Sediment sampling and analysis is required when there is a risk that the dredged material includes contaminants. The DNR reviews information provided in the permit pre-application meeting to determine when sediment sampling will be required and the level of sampling that will be necessary according to ch. NR 347, Wis. Adm. Code.

If you are applying to dredge a large area and/or there is known contaminated sediment on the waterway, please read this Sediment Sampling Guidance [PDF].

Dredging General Permits

Review eligibility criteria and requirements in the linked checklists or rule language to determine if your project is eligible for one of the following general permit activities.

Agricultural Purposes

Farm Drainage District Maintenance General Permit

Use if you do not meet exemption criteria above and to propose dredging a district drain that has a history of being a navigable stream prior to ditching and is identified in a DATCP recognized drainage district.

Previously Dredged Areas

Previously Dredged Areas General Permit (GP13)

Use to propose to dredge an area in a navigable waterway that has a history of having been dredged, up to 3,000 cubic yards of material. Verification of prior dredging activities must be submitted in the application and may include previous permits, plans, photos, timeframes, or other documents showing the extent of prior dredging activity.

Recreation and Navigation

Dredging for Riparian Navigation in Human-Made Impoundments General Permit (GP20)

For riparian owners located on human-made impoundments who propose to dredge up to 50 cubic yards annually for up to 5 years. Projects must meet the eligibility criteria in the GP checklist. Use the Eligible Lake List to confirm eligibility for this permit.

To demonstrate your project is located on a man-made impoundment, riparians can show they are located on a lake upstream from a dam structure by submitting a screenshot of the Surface Water Data Viewer Dam's Layer, or submit documentation from the DNR Water Management Specialist or DNR Water Management Engineer, or other documentation. Applicants will be prompted to submit this documentation when applying for the permit.

Applicants will also be required to submit a self-certification that the dredging is exempt from consultation from the Waste Materials Management or get separate approval from Waste Materials Management. Applicants can consult the self-certification exemption criteria flow chart for dredge material disposal facility.

Eligible lake list

Eligible waters list with 30% development

Small Scale Dredging General Permit (GP17)

Use to propose to dredge up to 25 cubic yards of material to improve navigation or recreation on a lake, river, or stream, or to propose to dredge up to 100 cubic yards of material to improve navigation or recreation on the Great Lakes.

Vegetation Management

Bed Disturbance Incidental to Great Lakes Vegetation Management General Permit

Use for operating a motor vehicle for invasive species management on the Great Lakes following a DNR-approved invasive/nonnative aquatic plant species control plan.

Harvesting Aquatic Plants by Jetting General Permit

Intended for use by DATCP licensed nursery growers to harvest aquatic plants.

Removal of Accumulated Plant and Animal Debris General Permit (GP5)

Use to propose dredging to remove accumulated plant and animal debris, including zebra/quagga mussels, algae, dead fish, or other dead plant or animal deposits.

Utility Projects

Dredging for Riparian Utility Crossings

Use for dredging necessary for placement of up to 10 utility crossings on navigable streams no more than 35 feet across. Typical projects include municipal water or sewer lines or small scale residential development projects with water, sewer, or fiber optic lines proposed to be trenched in under a stream channel.

Utility General Permit

General Permit 3 covers waterway and wetland impacts for projects sponsored by utilities. Utility sponsored projects are reviewed by the DNR Office of Energy. Pre-application contact is recommended. 

Dredging Individual Permit

If your project does not meet the exemption criteria or any of the general permit eligibility criteria, apply for an individual permit.