Working near Water

If you have a stream, creek, river, or wetland on your property, you have something special in your care. Cool, clean water in our local waterways is essential for fish and wildlife. Healthy streams benefit landowners too – in terms of aesthetics and enhanced property values.

A riparian area is the area of land adjacent to a stream, river, or creek. It can often be identified by the water loving vegetation that lives there.

Healthy riparian areas:
  • Improve water quality by filtering out sediment
  • Reduce the chance of flooding and erosion
  • Increase water availability for drinking and irrigation
  • Provide food and shelter for fish and wildlife
  • Provide shade to keep the nearby water cool in the summer
  • Reduce water pollution by filtering out sediment, chemicals, and nutrients from runoff


A wetland is an area where the soil is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands may be covered by shallow water all year, or they may dry out during the summer. Swamps, marshes, bogs, and vernal pools are different types of wetlands. These valuable areas filter pollutants, provide flood control, recharge groundwater, and provide wildlife habitat.

To provide for the best possible use of water resources in this state, we must strike a balance between protection and human use. This is the purpose of Oregon’s regulations governing activities in waterways, wetlands, and their riparian areas.

When planning a project in wetlands or waterways, you should check first with the Multnomah County Land Use Planning (503-988-3043) and the Department of State Lands (DSL, 503-378-3805) to determine what, if any, regulations may apply. Staff will be able to help you understand the range of permits that may be required for your water-related project. If you are unsure about the need for a permit, your regional DSL coordinator is available to provide guidance. You can also find more detailed information on types of permits on the DSL website at:

In Oregon, the Removal-Fill Permit administered by the Department of State Lands is the most common state requirement for projects in wetlands or waterways. It often links you to other water-related requirements that may apply to your project. The permit is required for all projects removing and/or filling 50 cubic yards or more of material in any calendar year in a wetland or waterway or for any project in a state scenic waterway or essential salmonid habitat. This law includes installation of bank stabilizing structures. Any installation of rock, riprap, or gabions without a permit is a violation of the removal/fill law and may result in a fine from state and federal agencies.

The permitting process can take time. Remember to allow up to 120 days for DSL to process your application for a permit.

While it may seem cumbersome to go through this step, you will be glad you did. There are both criminal and civil procedures for violations. Removing or filling without a permit or contrary to the conditions of a permit is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and one year in jail. Violations are also subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day of violation. DSL’s resource coordinators work with landowners to find ways to correct activities that may have occurred without a permit and to resolve issues without taking legal action. But, the best plan of action is to play it safe and ask for guidance before you dig or dump.