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Shoreline Erosion Control Structures Permitting


For each erosion control 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: s. 30.12, Wis. Stats. and NR 328, Wis. Adm. Code.

Shoreline Erosion Control Planning

The right project type for your shoreline depends on the wave energy it needs to withstand and previous damage. The DNR recommends biological erosion control methods when feasible, as these will be more self-sustaining over the long-term and provide the best habitat for fish and wildlife.

For resources to plan, design, and build shoreline erosion control structures, see Shoreline Erosion Control Technical Resources.

Great Lakes Erosion Control Structures

The Lakes Michigan and Superior coastlines are unique compared to inland lakes and fluctuating environmental conditions require a higher level of planning to protect both properties and critical nearshore habitat. Most erosion control projects on Great Lakes have separate permitting requirements and may require additional grading or dredging permits. See Resources for Great Lakes shoreline erosion control projectsfor erosion control project planning.

Steps to understand your permitting options

Permitting options are tied to whether the activity is proposed on a stream, inland lake or flowage, or the Great Lakes.

  1. Find your project type below from the list.
  2. Review your permitting options - note that each project has different options for streams, inland lakes or flowages, or the Great Lakes:
    • Exemption - If an exemption is available and you meet all of the eligibility criteria, you do not need a permit.
    • General Permit - If your project does not qualify for an exemption, review the eligibility criteria for a general permit and apply for it if your project meets all criteria.
    • Individual Permit - If your project does not qualify for an exemption or general permit, you must apply for an individual permit.
  3. Review Designated Waterways:
    • Some exemptions and general permits are not eligible for projects on Designated Waterways.
    • Use Property Lookup to review Designated Waterways on your project area.

*A streambank erosion control structure permitted prior to August 1, 2007, does not need a permit to be maintained.

*Streambank erosion control general permits are available in the following areas: the Driftless Area and Prairie Pothole Region, the Southwestern Wisconsin Till Plains and Chiwaukee Prairie Pothole Region, urban watersheds and within all village and city limits. See the Streambank Erosion Control General Permit Cover Map to view these areas.

Shoreline Erosion Control Project Types and Permitting Options


Includes structures built with living or organic materials that are biodegradable such as native grasses, trees, live stakes and posts, untreated wood, mats, or fiber rolls and is constructed to increase sediment stability or to reduce the erosion potential from wave action.

A biological erosion control structure may qualify for an exemption if it is not located in a waterway designated as an Area of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI).


Includes structures that use both vegetation and hard armoring erosion control materials, such as vegetated riprap or integrated toe protection.

A permit is required to install an integrated bank protection structure on any stream.


Riprap is layers of large armor stone, including filter fabric and s stone filter layer material placed on the bed and bank at a slope to prevent toe erosion.

A riprap structure may qualify for an exemption if it is 200 linear feet or less on an inland lake, flowage, stream, or river or 300 linear feet or less along the Great Lakes. Exemptions do not apply to waterways designated as Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI).


A seawall is an upright structure that is steeper than 1.5:1 slope and is installed parallel to shore to prevent sliding of the land and to protect adjacent land from waves. These structures are commonly constructed of timber, rock concrete, or metal sheet piling and may have biological components.

A seawall replacement project may be eligible for a general permit if it covers 100 ft. of shoreline or less and is located on an inland lake or flowage with an area of at least 300 acres.

A new seawall or seawall replacement project does not need a permit if it is located in the Wolf River or Fox River basins and meets the standards in section 30.2023, Wis. Stats.. The Wolf River and Fox River basin area consists of all of Winnebago County; the portion and shoreline of Lake Poygan in Waushara County; the area south of STH 21 and east of STH 49 in Waushara County; that portion of Calumet County in the Lake Winnebago watershed; all of Fond du Lac County north of STH 23; that portion of Outagamie County south and east of USH 41; that portion of Waupaca County that includes the town of Mukwa, city of New London, the town of Caledonia, the town of Fremont; and the portion and shoreline of Partridge Lake and the Wolf River in the town of Weyauwega.

An individual permit is required to install a new seawall on all other water bodies. Because seawalls typically result in significant impacts to habitat in the near shore zone, these projects require a high standard of review.


The placement of a new breakwater structure on inland water bodies can only be authorized on the following waterbodies:

  • Castle Rock and Petenwell flowages: Adams and Juneau counties
  • Lake Koshkonong: Dane, Jefferson and Rock counties
  • Beaver Dam Lake, Fox Lake and Lake Sinissippi: Dodge County
  • Lake Puckaway: Green Lake County
  • Lake Nokomis – Rice River reservoir: Lincoln and Oneida counties
  • Big Eau Pleine reservoir: Marathon County
  • Lake DuBay: Marathon and Portage counties
  • Rainbow and Willow flowages: Oneida County
  • Lake Poygan: Winnebago and Waushara counties
  • Lake Winneconne and Lake Buttes des Morts: Winnebago County
  • Lake Winnebago: Calumet, Fond du Lac and Winnebago counties
  • Impoundments of the Mississippi river: various counties

To place a breakwater in one of these water bodies, please apply for an individual permit.


An offshore breakwater is a concrete block or rock structure designed to reduce wave action intensity by creating a calm environment on the landward side of the structure. Breakwater projects are limited by regulation to the Great Lakes.

A permit is required to install an offshore breakwater on the Great Lakes.