Know who owns Ohio’s streams

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Rural stream
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

While regulations and permit requirements are neither fun nor exciting, it is important that you understand the documentation and permissions that need to be in place before beginning any project that might impact water quality. 

First, every landowner should understand who owns Ohio’s streams. 

There are two components to every stream — the water flowing in it and the land beneath the water. The land beneath the water belongs to the landowner, while the flowing water is considered a public good and therefore no one can own it. 

A landowner can utilize water flowing through their property as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others (ex. Downstream landowners). In order to protect free-flowing water as a public good, any projects or actions taken by the landowner that take place in or might impact streams or wetlands require local, state, and federal permits. 

Before beginning any project that might impact water quality, contact your local, state and federal agencies. Your local Soil and Water Conservation District is always a good place to start asking for more information. 

Local permits

Any development within the 100-year floodplain requires a permit. These can be obtained through the designated local floodplain administrator. In addition, any proposed action in the floodway requires hydrologic and hydraulic analysis. The floodway is the area of strongest current during a flood. 

State Agencies

Before proposing a project, it is helpful to know the ecological and historical significance of the site. Requests for information should be submitted to the Natural Heritage Database staff to locate any endangered, threatened, or special interest species and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office for information on archaeological, prehistorical, or historical sites or structures that might be impacted. 

Most state and federal permits require that this information be requested. If a project involves activities that might negatively impact aquatic life such as instream blasting, dewatering, the creation of dikes or levees, etc., special permissions are required through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Projects taking place near a State Scenic River often need additional authorization. 

In addition, in-stream work taking place between April 15 and June 30 of each year requires a waiver ensuring there will be minimal impact during this sensitive environmental window. 

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency should always be contacted prior to any in-stream work. Depending on the project’s location and the scope of impacts, 401 Water Quality Certification might be required. It is also important to know if the proposed project will impact the public water supply. 

Federal Agencies

Any project that involves dredging or placing fill material in waters of the United States requires permits through the US Army Corps of Engineers. Individual permit applications will need to be submitted for projects anticipating large areas of impacts, while smaller projects may qualify for a pre-authorized permit. 

A request should be submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain information on federally listed threatened and endangered plants and wildlife in the project area.

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