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Indiana Department of Environmental Management

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Table of Contents: Water Quality

Wetlands

When a project is planned in Indiana that will impact a wetland, stream, river, lake, or other water of the U.S., the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) must issue a Section 401 Water Quality Certification (401 WQC) or a state isolated wetland permit.  A Section 401 WQC is a required component of a federal permit and must be issued before a federal permit or license can be granted.  The bulk of federal permits requiring Section 401 Water Quality Certification from IDEM are Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permits, which are issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill materials into waters of the United States.  The basic premise of the USACE's Section 404 Regulatory program is that dredged or fill material cannot be discharged into water if the nation's waters would be significantly degraded or if a feasible alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.  Dredge and fill activities are controlled by a permit process administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).

This means that any person or company planning to discharge fill materials to Indiana wetlands or other water bodies such as streams, rivers, and lakes by filling, excavating, open-trench cutting, or mechanical clearing, must receive Section 401 Water Quality Certification authorization from IDEM and must also apply for, and receive, a federal Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit from the USACE.

IDEM works closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and coordinates the permit application processes as much as possible. IDEM recommends that any potential applicant first contact the USACE to begin the application process and determine if the proposed project will impact waters of the U.S. and to determine whether or not a federal permit is required.

Although both IDEM and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulate impacts to wetlands and other waters of the U.S., they have different authority and jurisdictions.  This is why both IDEM and the USACE need to be contacted before any discharge to or activity in a wetland, stream, river, lake, or other water of the U.S. occurs.

If the USACE determines that a proposed project will require a USACE Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permit, then the applicant must also apply for, and obtain, a Section 401 Water Quality Certification from IDEM.  IDEM will review the proposed activities to determine if they will comply with Indiana law, including state water quality standards.

Isolated wetlands (those wetlands not regulated under the federal Clean Water Act) are regulated under Indiana's State Isolated Wetlands law.  Impacts to isolated wetlands require State Isolated Wetland Permits from IDEM. Again, because the federal government's jurisdiction is different than the state's, IDEM must be contacted to determine which, if any, state authorization(s) is/are needed before an applicant may legally discharge pollutants (including fill materials) to wetland, streams, rivers, lakes, and other waters.

IDEM encourages you to read more about our Section 401 Water Quality Certification Program and State Isolated Wetlands Permitting Program by visiting our IDEM's Wetland Web site.  The Web site includes the Waterways Permitting Handbook [PDF - 15MB], as well as links to outreach materials, answers and information on permitting, including:

  • Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), such as:
    • What is the Purpose of IDEM 401 WQC?
    • What types of activities require IDEM and USACE permits?
    • How do I know if I have wetlands on my property/project site?
    • How do I hire an environmental/wetland consultant?
    • How do I apply for IDEM permits?
    • Which application form do I need to use?
    • What is mitigation?
    • Why does IDEM require mitigation?
    • Are there set ratios for mitigation?
    • How much are application fees for IDEM authorizations?
    • Where do I send my application form?
    • How can I avoid delays in the IDEM review process?
    • What can I expect once I’ve sent in my application form?
    • Will I receive a document in writing stating that my application has been approved or denied?
    • What types of conditions might IDEM impose as part of a 401 WQC approval?
    • When does IDEM deny an application?
    • How do I contact the USACE?
    • Are there any other permits I might need to work in a wetland, stream, lake, river, or other Indiana water?
  • Project planning tips
  • Information on early coordination, and how to request an early coordination meeting with IDEM staff
  • IDEM application materials
  • An overview of USACE permits
  • Working without IDEM authorization
  • How to report a complaint or violation to IDEM
  • IDEM wetland program staff contacts
  • Links and contact information for other state and federal regulatory agencies
  • Outreach materials

Please note - wetlands do not have to have standing water in them in order to be regulated by IDEM or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Determining the boundaries of wetlands is a task that must be conducted by a qualified wetland consultant. Wetlands are delineated by carefully examining a site for the presence of wetland indicators. In order to be a legal wetland, an area must have all three of the following present:

  • A dominance of wetland vegetation;
  • The presence of soils exhibiting hydric characteristics; and,
  • Indicators of hydrology (the presence of surface water or waterlogged soils) for a sufficient period of time in most years to influence the types of plants and soils that occur in that area, in order to legally be considered a wetland.

In order to know if wetlands are on your property, you must hire a wetland or environmental consultant to conduct a wetland delineation on the property. The wetland consultant will put together a report for you, called a wetland delineation report. This report must be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review and approval before the delineation report is considered accurate and legal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the responsibility of making wetland determinations and determining the limits of federal jurisdiction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will write a letter to you once they have reviewed your wetland delineation report – this letter will state the jurisdiction of the delineated wetlands and will also state whether or not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concurs with the delineation. Keep this letter, and your wetland delineation report, in a safe place as you will need to submit a copy of both to IDEM if you wish to apply for permits.

To obtain additional information regarding IDEM Section 401 Water Quality Certifications and Isolated Wetland Permits, or to obtain an application form, contact IDEM at (800) 451-6027, extension 3-8488 or (317) 233-8488. You can also visit the 401 Water Quality Certification Program page. The following publications are also recommended reading for learning more about how IDEM regulates Indiana wetlands and other waters of the state:

Persons seeking a permit for dredging operations also should also refer to information under "Dredging" in this guide.

To obtain additional information, contact IDEM’s Wetlands Program staff at (800) 451-6027, extension 3-8488 or (317) 233-8488 or visit the Wetlands Program Web page.