Carpinteria Creek Restoration in Santa Barbara County. Before restoration (left, photo courtesy of Moe Gomez, Director of South Coast Habitat Restoration), and after (right, photo by Chuck Gardner).


Determine all federal, state, and local approvals potentially needed

Several factors unique to your project may trigger the need for a permit, including the project activities (e.g. in-water work, alteration of a levee), location (e.g. Coastal Zone, San Francisco Bay, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta) species present, and project size.

The regulations that you will likely need to comply with for an aquatic restoration project include, but are not limited to:

See the table below for a longer list of laws/regulations/permits that may apply to your project and the regulating agency for each.

Special-Status Species Considerations

Consider which special-status species will need to be considered, and consider the appropriate time of year to conduct the work. Knowing work windows in advance can help with project planning and avoid delays.

Special Animals List

“Special Animals” is a broad term used to refer to all the animal taxa tracked by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB), regardless of their legal or protection status. This list is also referred to as the list of “species at risk” or “special status species.” This list is updated quarterly and can be found on this web page under the header CNDDB-related Animal Information. This document includes information about whether the animal is a Fully Protected Animal or Species of Special Concern, as well as the listing status under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) or federal Endangered Species Act.

California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Listed Species

Check the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife’s California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) for known species occurrences within your project area through RareFind or other CNDDB access programs.

Federal Endangered Species Act Listed Species

For federally listed species and species proposed for listing, you can begin by using the USFWS’ Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) website to define the project area and receive an official species list. The Official Species List is required to be retained for any federal project. Note that IPaC does not include candidate species, so you will need to check if any candidate species may be within your project area.

Anadromous fish listed under the federal Endangered Species Act

For anadromous species under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), see the National ESA Critical Habitat Mapper application to find out if your project is within designated critical habitat or Essential Fish Habitat.

Engage early with regulatory agencies, and communities

Early in the process, establish rapport with all of the regulatory agencies involved in the project. Get regulatory staff feedback and input on your conceptual plan, including project design and environmental protection measures. Pre-application meetings and early consultation can save you headaches later.

Ensure cooperating landowners where easements and/or adjoining property owners’ agreement is needed. Conduct community outreach as needed, including to tribal representatives, early on in the process.

Look for accelerated permitting pathways

Use our resources to find accelerated permitting pathways that your project may be eligible to use.

Use our Protection Measures Selection Tool to filter measures from the Water Board Statewide Restoration General Order (SRGO), USFWS Statewide Restoration Programmatic Biological Opinion (PBO), and NOAA Restoration Center PBO.

Need help? Contact our team for free technical assistance to help you figure out which accelerated permitting pathways may work for your project

Learn from others

See our list of example projects by permitting pathway, project type, county, or the full list to learn more about some of the restoration projects that have used accelerated pathways and who implemented them. Contact us at to have your project featured on this website.

Project Size

Determine if your project fits within the “small restoration project” size category

Keeping the area of project disturbance to 5 acres or less and 500 cumulative linear feet or less is a way to simplify the permitting process. Many small-scale restoration projects can use the following permitting pathways:

  • CEQA Categorical Exemptions (15333 – direct area of impact 5 acres or less or 15304 – minor alterations to land) rather than the more complex Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) or Environmental Impact Report (EIR) processes. This Categorical Exemption can be used if a project is over 500 cumulative linear feet, but still 5 acres or less in size.
  • Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act (HREA) for permitting with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • General Order for Small Habitat Restoration Projects for compliance with Section 401 of the Clean Water Act through your Regional Water Quality Control Board

NOTE: The cumulative linear foot limit applies just to the direct area of impact (e.g. where shovels/equipment are entering the ground). Consider using the Calculator for Determining Project Disturbance Area for Large Wood Augmentation Projects developed by the Wood for Salmon Working Group, and the accompanying Visual Guidance for Calculating Disturbance Area for Large Wood Augmentation Projects to determine if your project fits within the size limit of those permitting pathways. This tool can also be useful for beaver dam analogue projects.

Other ways to simplify the permitting process

You may want to consider making some changes to your project to avoid and/or minimize impacts to resources so that you can use an accelerated permitting pathway. This could mean operating within timing windows or spatial buffers so the risk of adverse impacts to special-status species is minimal. Being able to complete your project without heavy equipment entering the wetted channel should also simplify the permitting process.

Apply for funding through CDFW’s Fisheries Restoration Grant Program

The Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP), managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), was established in 1981 in response to rapidly declining populations of wild salmon and steelhead trout and deteriorating fish habitat in California. FRGP administers a competitive grant program that has invested millions of dollars to support various projects throughout coastal California that lead to process-based restoration, enhancement, or protection of anadromous salmonid habitat.

Uniquely, FRGP provides the following coverages for all eligible funded projects:

  1. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance,
  2. Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 certification, State Water Resources Control Board, and
  3. CWA Section 404, Army Corps of Engineers permit.
  4. California Coastal Commission, Master Coastal Development Permit

Partner with a local district

Non-governmental organizations should consider partnering with a local District (Water, Parks, and Open Space, Resource Conservation District), which can serve as a CEQA lead agency, in the event that the project does not qualify for a CEQA exemption.

Reach out to a Resource Conservation District (RCD)

The following Partners in Restoration or Permit Coordination Programs are active at this time. RCDs in other areas that do not have an active Partners in Restoration or Permit Coordination Program may still be able to provide some assistance with the permitting process.

For private landowners – Contact the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is a voluntary program that provides free technical and financial assistance to private landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat on their lands. Projects are voluntary and collaborative to meet landowners’ needs. Participating landowners continue to own and manage their land while they improve conditions on their lands for wildlife.

USFWS staff provide free technical and financial assistance to plan, design, and supervise wildlife habitat restoration projects. Examples of habitats that they work in within this region include wetlands, streams, riparian, grasslands, and mountain meadows. Projects can range in size from a few to hundreds of acres and a few hundred feet to miles of riparian and/or stream.

If interested, contact the California State Coordinator or your local Partners Program biologist. They can provide informal advice on wildlife-friendly practices and discuss your project ideas. If the Partners Program fits your needs, they will walk you through the process to receive financial assistance. 

See contact information and the map of Partners Program Ecoregions HERE.

Laws/regulations/permits you may need to comply with

In some cases, there may be regulations that are not listed in this table. It is ultimately up to the regulatory agency with jurisdiction or regulatory control to decide whether your project requires a particular permit.

ResourceApplicable Laws/Regulations/PermitsRegulating Agency
MultipleCEQA and NEPAPublic and federal agencies
Wetlands and other watersSection 404 of the Clean Water Act—individual or general permitU.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
Wetlands and other watersSection 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act—individual or general permitUSACE
Wetlands and other watersSection 401 Clean Water Act (federal waters) and Porter-Cologne Act waste discharge requirements (nonfederal waters of the state)State Water Board and Regional Water Board
Wetlands and other watersSection 402 of the Clean Water Act—National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit(s)State Water Board and Regional Water Board
Wetlands and other watersSections 1600–1607 of the California Fish and Game Code—lake and streambed alteration agreement
Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)
Federally listed speciesSection 7 of the federal Endangered Species Act—Section 7 consultation
Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act—habitat conservation plan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and NOAA Restoration Center
Essential Fish HabitatMagnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management ActNMFS
Fish and wildlife resourcesFish and Wildlife Coordination Act reportUSFWS
State-listed species/state special-status speciesSection 2081 of the California Endangered Species Act—incidental take permit/consistency determination
Natural Community Conservation Planning Act
Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act
State-listed species/state special-status speciesCalifornia Native Plant Protection ActCDFW
Cultural resourcesNational Historic Preservation Act—Section 106 consultationState Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO)
Alterations of federal flood protection projectsEncroachment permit (CCR Title 23); Central Valley Flood Protection Board encroachment permit; and CFR Title 33, Sections 208.10 and 408Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB) and USACE
Alterations of federal flood protection projectsAgreementsLocal levee districts
Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta and Suisun MarshDelta Reform Act of 2009Delta Stewardship Council
San Francisco Bay, its shoreline, and Suisun MarshCoastal Zone Management Act, McAteer-Petris Act, San Francisco Bay Plan, and other local plansSan Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC)
Coastal ZoneFederal Coastal Zone Management ActCalifornia Coastal Commission
State landsLand use leaseState Lands Commission
Transportation infrastructure and utilitiesEncroachment permitCaltrans, various utility companies, railroads, local and county roads, etc.
OtherLocal grading, building, land use, and other permitsCity and county departments
SOURCE: Data compiled by Environmental Science Associates in 2019
NOTES: Caltrans = California Department of Transportation; CCR = California Code of Regulations; CEQA = California Environmental Quality Act; CFR = Code of Federal Regulations; NEPA = National Environmental Policy Act;; NOAA RC = National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Restoration Center; Porter-Cologne Act = Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act; Regional Water Board = Regional Water Quality Control Board; State Water Board = State Water Resources Control Board


  • Look at accelerated permitting pathways, especially the newer statewide authorizations (Water Board Statewide Restoration General Order and USFWS Statewide Restoration PBO) for general and species protection measures. Use this website to access application forms for authorizations where available. See the projects on this website for examples of how these accelerated permitting pathways have been used.
  • Provide a clear, detailed, and well-written project description, including all of the appropriate protection measures you anticipate the agencies will request. Clearly describe your project purpose, methods, and benefits to aquatic resources and sensitive habitats. Give adequate justification for design choices that could be questioned.
  • Provide maps, figures, and photos.


  • Establish relationships with agency staff. View regulatory staff as your partners in getting restoration done, rather than obstacles to the completion of your project.
November 2014 vs. February 2017 at the Green Gulch Creek Habitat Enhancement Project. Photos by Robyn Carliss.