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Division of Land Use Regulation
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

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Streams and Rivers

  • Overview
  • Channel
  • Flood Hazard Area
  • Riparian Zone
  • Types of Permit Authorizations

Stream

  • The New Jersey Flood Hazard Area Control Act
  • The Flood Hazard Area (FHA) Control Act Rules N.J.A.C. 7:13, adopted on November 5, 2007, implement the New Jersey Flood Hazard Area Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:16A-50 et seq.,

Unless properly controlled, development within flood hazard areas can exacerbate the intensity and frequency of flooding by reducing flood storage, increasing stormwater runoff and obstructing the movement of floodwaters.  

In addition, structures that are improperly built in flood hazard areas are subject to flood damage and threaten the health, safety and welfare of those who use them.

Furthermore, healthy vegetation adjacent to surface waters is essential for maintaining bank stability and water quality. The indiscriminate disturbance of such vegetation can destabilize channels, leading to increased erosion and sedimentation that exacerbates the intensity and frequency of flooding. The loss of vegetation adjacent to surface waters also reduces filtration of stormwater runoff and thus degrades the quality of these waters.

The Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules therefore incorporate stringent standards for development in flood hazard areas and adjacent to surface waters in order to mitigate the adverse impacts to flooding and the environment that can be caused by such development.

As defined by the regulations, “channel” means a linear topographic depression that continuously or intermittently confines and/or conducts surface water, not including transient erosional gullies and other ephemeral features that temporarily form after heavy rainfall. A channel can be naturally occurring or can be of human origin through excavation or construction. A channel includes both a stream bed and stream banks.

The Department discourages activities within the channel, unless absolutely necessary. This is because the Department must preserve aquatic habitat and passage. In addition, by limiting work out of the channel, this can play a role in limiting flood damage and minimizing erosion along stream banks. For additional information, please refer to N.J.A.C. 7:13-10.1 [Link to that citation].

For more information on channels, and the methods for determining their limits, please visit the Channel webpage.

Flood Hazard Area

  • Overview
  • Floodway
  • Flood Fringe

The Flood Hazard Area is the land, and the space above that land, which lies below the flood hazard area design flood elevation.  The flood hazard area design flood elevation is a flood equal to the 100-year flood plus an additional amount of water in fluvial areas to account for possible future increases in flows due to development or other factors. This additional amount of water also provides a factor of safety in cases when the 100-year flood is exceeded. Structures, fill and vegetation that are situated on land that lies below the flood hazard area design flood elevation are described as being "in" or "within" the flood hazard area. The inner portion of the flood hazard area is called the floodway and the outer portion of the flood hazard area is called the flood fringe. There are two types of flood hazard areas:

  1. Tidal flood hazard areas, in which the flood hazard area design flood elevation is governed by tidal flooding from the Atlantic Ocean. Flooding in a tidal flood hazard area may be contributed to or influenced by stormwater runoff from inland areas, but the depth of flooding generated by the tidal rise and fall of the Atlantic Ocean is greater than flooding from any fluvial sources; and
  2. Fluvial flood hazard areas, in which the flood hazard area design flood elevation is governed by stormwater runoff. Flooding in a fluvial flood hazard area may be contributed to or influenced by elevated water levels generated by the tidal rise and fall of the Atlantic Ocean, but the depth of flooding generated by stormwater runoff is greater than flooding from the Atlantic Ocean.

Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:13-2.3(a)1, a flood hazard area and a riparian zone exist along every regulated water that has a drainage area of 50 acres or more. If a regulated water has a drainage area of less than 50 acres, the water does not have a flood hazard area that is regulated under the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules. However, it may still have a riparian zone. The flood hazard area is comprised of a flood fringe and a floodway , except for the Atlantic Ocean and other non-linear tidal waters such as bays and inlets, which do not have a floodway. Therefore, the entire flood hazard area along these tidal waters is considered to be a flood fringe. The methods for determining the limits of the flood fringe and floodway are described at N.J.A.C. 7:13-3.1 et seq.

The Floodway is defined as land, and the space above that land, which lies within the inner portion of the flood hazard area, and which is mathematically determined to be required to carry and discharge floodwaters resulting from the 100-year flood under certain conditions. The floodway always includes the channel and often includes land adjacent to the channel. The floodway is normally characterized by faster and deeper flows than the flood fringe, which is the portion of the flood hazard area outside the floodway.

For additional guidance on development restrictions within this area and information on how to determine where this area is relative to a stream and/or river, please visit the Floodway Guidance webpage.

The flood fringe is the part of the flood hazard area that is outside of the floodway.  The flood fringe is normally characterized by shallower water with little or no visible flow. 

Development within the flood fringe is restricted, but to a lesser degree than the floodway.  Generally, most development projects can occur within the flood fringe as long as the project causes little or no adverse impacts to the on-site flood storage and new structures have a lowest floor elevated to at leaste 1 foot above the flood hazard design flood elevation. 

For additional guidance on development restrictions within this area and information on how to determine where this area is relative to a stream and/or river, please visit the Floodfringe Guidance webpage.

 

Research has shown that the vegetated areas adjacent to a watercourse provide a variety of significant functions and values, such as reducing adverse effects to water quality by removing nutrients and pollutants from storm runoff, moderating storm flows to streams providing flood storage capacity (which reduces downstream flooding), and stabilizing soils and stream banks naturally.

With a few exceptions, a riparian zone exists along every regulated water. The riparian zone is the land and vegetation within a regulated water and extending either 50 feet, 150 feet or 300 feet from the top of bank along both sides of the regulated water, depending on the environmental sensitivity of the water.

For more information on riparian zones, and the methods for determining their limits, please visit the Riparian Zone webpage.

Types of Flood Hazard Area Permit Authorizations

Verification: In addition to authorizing construction activities through permits, the Flood Hazard Area Control Act Rules include verifications at N.J.A.C. 7:13-6, which determine the limits of regulated areas on-site. A verification only determines the limits of the regulated areas and does not authorize any construction. For more information about verifications please go to the Verifications webpage.

Permit-by-Rule: A Permit-by-Rule "PBR" is a permit whose terms and conditions are set forth in the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules and for which no prior written approval from the Department is necessary in order to undertake the specified regulated activity, provided all conditions of the permit-by-rule are satisfied. The Department has determined that if the regulated activities are undertaken as prescribed in the respective permits-by-rule, the impact on flooding and the environment will be de minimis. For information on a particular PBR, please go to the Permits By Rule webpage.

General Permits: The Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules include General Permits "GP" for 16 specific construction activities set forth at N.J.A.C. 7:13-8. These general permits are designed to facilitate various activities that have been identified as having minimal impacts to flooding and the environment. For information on GP's, including information on particular GP's, please go to the General Permits webpage.

Individual Permits: For many of the simpler and low impact projects, the 46 Permit by Rules and 16 General Permits noted above are sufficent.   Applicants are encouraged to modify their project to fit the criteria for these simpler and faster authorizations.   However, for projects that are more complex in nature, a Flood Hazard Individual Permit “IP” would be required. For more information on IP's, please go to the Individual Permits webpage.

Emergency Permits: If there is a threat that a severe environmental degradation will occur and/or there is an immediate and extraordinary risk to property or the public health, safety and welfare and there is a high probability that the environmental degradation or impact to property or the public health, safety and welfare will occur before a flood hazard area individual permit or general permit authorization could be obtained, then an Emergency Permit may be issued. For information on Emergency Permits, please go to the Emergency Permits webpage.

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Last Updated: May 21, 2014