Guidelines for Maintaining Streams in Your Community

This is a simple guide to understanding what DEP requires of those who want to work in or adjacent to streams. Stream work that is not properly designed and permitted can cause conditions to worsen in the next flood event, also impacting downstream neighbors.

Whether you are a municipal official well versed in regulations or a resident experiencing flooding for the first time, this will help you figure out your next steps. When in doubt, the first step should always be to contact your regional DEP office. DEP staff are ready and willing to assist in several ways.


 Green Light – Go!

Proceed – These actions do not require DEP notification, pre-approval, or permits:

  • Removing non-native (manmade) material, such as litter and construction debris, from the stream, banks, and riparian areas

  • Removing woody debris, such as trees, logs, or brush, from the stream while you are standing in the stream (this includes the use of hand-held equipment, such as chainsaws, but not heavy equipment)

  • Removing woody debris from the stream while you are standing on the bank (this includes the use of heavy equipment, so long as it remains on the bank and is “picking out” the material and not digging into the streambed)

  • Chaining or winching large woody debris and dragging it from the streambank

  • Cutting trees off at the stump (keeping the stumps helps stabilize the bank)

  • Cleaning out culverts

  • Removing gravel and flood debris from around bridges and culverts according to the terms of your permit (contact DEP or your County Conservation District to review your permit conditions)

  • Planting trees and other plants on streambanks and in riparian areas, especially native species

  • Adopting or implementing stormwater management ordinances and best management practices

  • Crossing the stream to access your property immediately after a flood emergency (but only if the conditions are safe)

 Yellow Light – Slow Down!

Contact DEP – These actions likely require DEP notification, verbal pre-approval, emergency permits, or other permits. For projects that pose an imminent threat to life, property, or the environment, such permissions are usually readily obtained. 

Call DEP before you begin:

  • Rebuilding roads and bridges across streams

  • Streambank stabilization projects

  • Armoring streambanks with an engineered riprap

  • Armoring streambanks with an engineered riprap design in emergency situations

  • Removing gravel bars from the stream channel using heavy equipment (gravel must be safely relocated out of the floodplain to an upland area that is not a wetland)

  • Repairing a bridge or culvert

  • Removing a bridge or culvert in danger of failure, or in partial or complete collapse (if a bridge or culvert is no longer serviceable, it can be considered debris and removed)

 Red Light – Stop!

Contact DEP – These actions definitely require permits, if allowed at all, and may require involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or other agencies.

Call DEP before you begin:

  • Redirecting the flow of a stream by reshaping gravel bars, or moving gravel to the streambank

  • Armoring streambanks with concrete, construction debris, and other impervious materials

  • Moving (relocating) a stream

  • Dredging streams

  • Creating dikes

  • Damming Streams

  • Building a new bridge or culvert

 Remember: When in Doubt, Call DEP!

PA Department of Environmental Protection

Southwest (Pittsburgh) Regional Office

400 Waterfront Dr.

Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4745

Telephone: 412-442-4000


This link provides a wealth of information relating to storm water education and practical examples taking place within the Commonwealth to improve our overall water conditions.



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