How USACE Affects Landscape Architects

Regulatory Agency Series: Part 2

How USACE Affects Landscape Architects

Do you know what the Army Corps if Engineers does?

Don’t they run around in military uniforms and kill terrorist?

Not so!

US Army Corps of Engineers Sign. USACE protects waters of the United States.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is officially run by the Army, but it is almost exclusively staffed by civilian engineers and other highly educated professionals.

The mission of the United States Army Corps of Engineers includes managing the nation’s waterways and wetlands.

USACE Responsibilities

USACE is responsible for:

  • Federal flood control projects
  • Maintaining commercial navigation in waterways
  • Shipping channel maintenance
  • Operating and maintaining flood control reservoirs and public reclamation facilities
  • Regulating wetlands (including dredge and fill permits)
  • Authorizing the establishment of new wetland areas
  • Protecting “Waters of the United States”

What are Waters of the United States?

The Corps of Engineers is responsible for protecting the waters of the United States, which includes all the following:

  • All navigable waters and their tributaries
  • All interstate waters and their tributaries
  • All other waters whose use, degradation, or destruction could affect interstate commerce
  • All water impoundments (i.e. reservoirs)
  • Territorial seas (i.e. Salton Sea)

USACE and the Clean Water Act

USACE is one of the primary enforcement agencies for the federal Clean Water Act. This includes discharges into rivers, siltation, alterations of rivers and streams, and wetland protection.

Any activity that requires cuts or fills in the “waters of the United States” requires a permit from the Corps of Engineers.

Mitigation of disturbed or destroyed wetlands is part of the permit process. Wetland mitigation can include the creation of new wetlands, restoring degraded wetlands, or enhancing or preserving existing wetlands.

USACE Districts in California

The USACE has three districts in California:

  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Sacramento

Types of Permits

There are two types of permits issued by USACE:

  • Individual Permit
  • General Permit

Individual Permits

Individual permits are for projects that have a major impact on the environment and must be reviewed with greater scrutiny.  These can take several months before they are approved and require coordination with other state and federal agencies.

General Permits

General permits are issued for projects that minimally have an impact on the environment.

Wetland Mitigation and Restoration

To get a permit for dredging or filling wetlands, you need to prove that you have taken steps to avoid affecting wetlands, minimized potential impacts on wetlands and waterways, and provided mitigation for any remaining unavoidable effects.

How To Identify If Your Site Has Wetlands

To determine if your project site includes wetlands or waters that fall under USACE’s control, consult district maps published by the Corps of Engineers which are available on their website.

USACE also published the “Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual” which shows all wetlands controlled by USACE.

The Corps Can Greatly Affect Your Project

As you can see, the US Army Corps of Engineers can greatly affect what you do and how you do it on a landscape architecture project that includes waters of the United States.

You can expect a least one or more questions about the scope and duties of the US Army Corps of Engineers on the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for landscape architects.

 For More Information on Regulatory Agencies:

  1. Part 1: Introduction to Regulatory Agencies on the California Supplemental Exam
  2. Part 2: US Army Corps of Engineers

Pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for Landscape Architects e-book study guideIf you are looking for a study guide to help you prepare to pass the CSE the first time, check out Pass the California Supplemental Exam for Landscape Architects study guide e-book.


John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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