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A Landowner's Guide to
Streambank Protection and Stabilization

By Wendy Smith, Melanie Catania and Dan Eagar
Artwork by Geralda Shockey

Frequently Asked Questions || Stabilizing Streambanks || Keeping Streams Healthy || Permits

Permits At-a-Glance

State staff are available to assist landowners in getting the guidance and legal authorization they need to maintain streams on their property. Stream work can be divided into three categories: minor activities which do not require a permit, activities which are authorized by existing state guidance, and activities which need to be authorized by an individual permit. Contrary to popular belief, most permit applications for stream work are approved. Between 1985 and 1998, TDEC received over 5,300 requests for permits. Only 40 of those requests were denied. That's less than 1%!

What Can I Do Without a Permit?

  • remove downed trees and other debris by dragging or winching, as long as you don't grade or reshape the stream channel
  • place downed trees on streambanks to help prevent erosion
  • plant trees or other vegetation on streambanks
  • remove trees or other live vegetation from within stream channels or along stream banks by cutting, as long you don't excavate or reshape the stream channel. Stumps and roots should be left in place to help secure the streambank. However, clearing trees and other vegetation from stream banks is not recommended, since this plant life helps protect against erosion and provides habitat for fish and other animals.
  • conduct minor work within the stream channel, using hand tools

For what activities do I need to follow specific state guidelines?

The state has developed specific guidelines for certain activities to ensure protection of the stream and allow landowners to solve problems quickly. You generally can do the work you wish for certain activities if you follow these guidelines. Activities that are covered by state guidelines include:

  • stabilizing up to 200 feet of streambank by reshaping and armoring the bank with non-erodible materials
  • removing gravel or other material that is blocking culverts
  • dredging sand and gravel for non-commercial use away from the stream, as long as a berm separates the work area from the flowing stream
  • placing culverts or constructing bridges for road crossings

When Do I Need an Individual Permit?

Activities that do not cause significant harm to the stream but fall outside of the scope of the state guidelines listed above may be allowed under an individual permit. Some activities that will require an individual permit are:

  • relocating stream channels
  • reshaping stream channels
  • damming streams

Individual permits normally require 60 to 90 days for processing due to the legally required public notice and comment period.

How Much Does a Permit Cost?

There is no processing fee required for activities authorized by state guidelines. For individual permits there is a $50 processing fee for work in streams associated with private residences or family farms.

When in doubt, call one of TDEC's eight Environmental Assistance Centers (EACs) across the state that will provide you with state guidelines, assist you in determining if you need a permit, what information should be included in your application, and how to file your application. Call 1-888-891-TDEC for the EAC nearest you.

Where Can I Get Help?

Bioengineering Assistance
USDA - NRCS 615-736-5471

Permit and EAC Contact

Federal Contacts and Cost Share Programs
Local District Conservationist
Resource Conservation and Development Councils
Soil Conservation Districts

Questions about Endangered Species?

TDEC Division of Natural Heritage

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This project is funded (in part) under an agreement with Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Nonpoint Source Program and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

(Wendy Smith is a Nashville freelance writer and video producer; Melanie Catania is a policy analyst with TDEC's Policy Office and Dan Eagar is manager of the Natural Resources Section of TDEC's Division of Water Pollution Control. )


Frequently Asked Questions || Stabilizing Streambanks || Keeping Streams Healthy || Permits