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Waterway protection Culverts

Culverts

Culverts

Culverts are one of the most popular ways to cross small streams or narrow connections between lakes, and as a result are very prevalent on the landscape.

In order to minimize the impact a water crossing has on the environment, culverts require the proper size, design and installation to ensure that they don't cause erosion downstream, flood upstream properties, alter stream habitat or block aquatic organism passage.

Determine permit required

This is a text link version of our culverts interactive question and answer module. If you are seeing this message, you currently have JavaScript disabled or are in compatibility mode while using Internet Explorer. This text version is here to help you understand if you need a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for your culvert project, and if so, which one. Please go through and answer each question. This will help you determine which permit you will need.

Question 1 :

Will your culvert installation be part of a public road or highway?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

Your project requires a review by DNR. There is no fee required.

For more information on these types of projects, please contact the transportation liaison staff who manage the review transportation projects.

If installation will impact wetlands, a general permit is available for the construction, reconstruction or maintenance of a county, village, city or town highway, bridge or culvert. This permit will also allow wetland impacts up to 10,000 square feet if it meets the conditions of the general permit. Please visit the General permits page and choose "Municipal Highway Bridges Arches and Culverts" to apply.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 2.

Question 2 :

Will your culvert be in a stream or a lake?

If your answer is "Stream” go to Question 3.

If your answer is "Lake” go to Question 22.

Question 3 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Replace an existing culvert in a stream” go to Question 4.

If your answer is "Construct a new culvert in a stream” go to Question 15.

If your answer is "Replace or repair a culvert in a stream after a natural disaster in a declared disaster area” go to Question 5.

Question 4 :

Have you received a permit from the DNR for the culvert, or has a previous owner obtained a permit for the existing culvert you want to replace?

If your answer is "Yes,” :

You've answered Yes:

You may qualify for an exemption. This means that you may not have to submit a culverts permit application or pay a fee. However, the replacement of your culvert must still meet certain standards:

  • A culvert that is authorized by a permit issued under s. 30.12 or 30.123, Stats., may be replaced provided the construction, placement and maintenance will comply with the same conditions of the original permit. Note: If changes to land use, flood flows, or navigational patterns have occurred since a culvert was originally permitted, the initial standards may no longer be appropriate and may need to be modified.
  • Both ends of the culvert shall be installed so a minimum of 4" with a maximum of 8" of a round culvert or 6" of a pipe arch culvert lies below the bed of the waterway. Note: In most cases, the pipe arch culvert is the recommended culvert design because it is effective in low clearance installations, generally requires less fill, and the wider bottom allows for the better retention of natural substrates.
  • Erosion control measures shall meet or exceed the technical standards for erosion control approved by the department under subch. V of ch. NR 151. Any area where topsoil is exposed during construction shall be immediately seeded and mulched or riprapped to stabilize disturbed areas and prevent soils from being eroded and washed into the waterway. Note: These standards can also be found by visiting Storm water run-off permits OR by viewing the Wisconsin administrative code.

In addition, please review the culvert exemption checklist at exemptions to be sure you meet all of the necessary criteria.

If your answer is "No,” go to Question 12.

If your answer is "I don't know,” :

You've answered I don't know:

Please use our designated waters search online mapping tool and zoom to the location of your project and click on the Waterway and Wetland Alterations layer to see if any permits have been issued in the past near the location of your proposed project. Then go back and answer this question. If you are unsure of how to use this application, please use our How-To tutorial.

Question 5 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Rebuild a private culvert” go to Question 6.

If your answer is "Rebuild a public culvert” go to Question 9.

Question 6 :

If your project is in a state or federally declared disaster area, most times a Governor's executive order gives the department the authority to expedite the approval of your project if it falls into one or both of these categories. Does your private culvert project:

If your answer is "Provide protection of human health and safety,” :

You've answered Provide protection of human health and safety:

If regulated activities must be done immediately to protect human health and safety or resolve an ongoing environmental problem, you must notify the local DNR water management specialist or conservation warden before starting construction. In most cases work can be done immediately with authorization (if needed) provided for the project at a later date.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

If your answer is "Have a previously issued activity permit,” :

You've answered Have a previously issued activity permit:

If the project was previously issued a permit by the DNR, you can restore or rebuild to the dimensions specified by the original permit. This includes the replacement of previously authorized bridges, culverts or streambank protection projects. Be sure to follow all applicable permit conditions.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

Question 9 :

DNR approval is typically required for repair/replacement of publicly owned roads, bridges or culverts on navigable waterways. Does your public culvert project:

If your answer is "Need to have temporary repairs immediately for emergency access,” :

You've answered Need to have temporary repairs immediately for emergency access:

If DOT or local governments need to do something immediately for emergency access, they may make the temporary repairs to get the culvert open and begin to remove the damaged parts and prep the site for their pending permanent repair. Debris/sediment must be disposed of outside waterways, wetlands and floodplains.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

If your answer is "Replace a previous culvert to pre-disaster conditions for non-emergency access,” :

You've answered Replace a previous culvert to pre-disaster conditions for non-emergency access:

If the proposed improvement is to repair or replace the culvert to pre-flood conditions in-kind and at the same location, and includes best management practices for erosion control, DNR review will be simplified and expedited. You must notify the local DNR water management specialist or conservation warden before starting construction.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

Question 12 :

Is the culvert you are replacing 24 inches or smaller?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 13.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 15.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please see the diagram illustration below, showing you how to measure the size of the culvert you are replacing.

Culvert measuring diagram

Question 13 :

Has the culvert that you want to REPLACE been there for at least three years? Note: The historical presence of a culvert that is no longer in place or was not in place in the past 3 years is NOT considered a replacement.

If your answer is "Yes,” go to Question 14.

If your answer is "No,” go to Question 15.

Question 14 :

First, you need to find the location of your proposed culvert installation on our surface water data viewer map. Is your project site located in an Area of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI), Public Rights Feature (PRF) or a Navigable Tributary to a Trout Stream?

If your answer is "Yes,” go to Question 15.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You may qualify for an exemption. This means that you may not have to submit a culverts permit application or pay a fee. However, the replacement of your culvert must still meet the following standards.

  • Both ends of the culvert shall be installed so a minimum of 4" with a maximum of 8" of a round culvert or 6" of a pipe arch culvert lies below the bed of the waterway. Note: In most cases, the pipe arch culvert is the recommended culvert design because it is effective in low clearance installations, generally requires less fill, and the wider bottom allows for the better retention of natural substrates.
  • Erosion control measures shall meet or exceed the technical standards for erosion control approved by the department under subch. V of ch. NR 151. Any area where topsoil is exposed during construction shall be immediately seeded and mulched or riprapped to stabilize disturbed areas and prevent soils from being eroded and washed into the waterway. Note: These standards can also be found by visiting Storm water runoff permits OR by viewing the Wisconsin administrative code. [PDF exit DNR]

In addition, please review the culvert exemption checklist at exemptions to be sure you meet all of the necessary criteria.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Surface Water Data Viewer - Designated Waters to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to Question 14 and answer Yes or NO. (If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.)

Question 15 :

Will a non-professional engineer be designing the culvert placement?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 16.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 17.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

If you are unsure at this time whether you will be designing the culvert yourself or you are planning on hiring a professional engineer to design your culvert, that is OK. Please visit us again when you make a decision. This information is critical in determining which permit you are eligible for.

Question 16 :

First, you need to find the location of your proposed culvert installation on our surface water data viewer map and determine if it is in a Public Rights Feature (PRF). The permit type you are eligible for depends on the location of your project. Is your project located in a Public Rights Feature? (PRF)?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You will need to apply for an individual culvert permit.*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit Application Checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawing [drawing 1 - without engineer] [PDF] for this activity.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 19.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Designated Water Search online mapping tool to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to Question 16 and choose Yes or No.

If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.

Question 17 :

Will you be hiring a PROFESSIONAL engineer to design your culvert replacement?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 18.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 15.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

If you are unsure at this time whether you will be designing the culvert yourself or you are planning on hiring a professional engineer to design your culvert, that is OK. Please visit us again when you make a decision. This information is critical in helping us determine which type of permit you are eligible for.

Question 18 :

First, you need to find the location of your proposed culvert installation on our surface water data viewer map and determine if it is in a public rights feature (PRF). The permit type you are eligible for depends on the location of your project. Is your project located in a Public Rights Feature? (PRF)?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You will need to apply for an individual culvert permit.*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit Application Checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawing [drawing 1 - with engineer] [PDF] for this activity.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 21.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Designated Water Search online mapping tool to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to the previous question and answer it to continue.

If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.

Question 19 :

Second, you will need to know your culvert area. At this time, if a non-professional designing your culvert installation, than the culvert area cannot exceed 20 square feet. Does your culvert area exceed 20 square feet?

If your answer is "Yes,” go to Question 20.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You may be eligible for the general permit for non-professionally engineered culverts. PLease look at the permit checklist [PDF] and sample drawing [PDF] before visiting the General permits page to apply for a culvert general permit. *Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding. Please be aware that the permit materials may indicate additional general permit standards you must meet while replacing your culvert.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Also, please review the Culvert placement worksheet [PDF]. This will help you determine the culvert diameter in inches. When complete, please return to Question 19.

Question 20 :

You are not eligible for the non-engineered culverts General Permit. You can either make a decision to hire a professional engineer to design your culvert AND then determine your eligibility for the General Permit. OR you can decide to apply for an Individual Permit. What would you like to do?

If your answer is "Hire a professional engineer,” go to Question 21.

If your answer is "Apply for an individual permit,” :

You've answered Apply for an individual permit:

You will need to apply for an individual permit. To apply, please visit the individual permits page.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Question 21 :

First, you will need to know your culvert area. At this time, if you are using a professional engineer to design your culvert installation, the culvert area cannot exceed 40 square feet. Does your culvert area exceed 40 square feet?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You are not eligible for the professionally engineered culverts general permit. You can either decide to cross the stream in an alternate way OR you can apply for a individual permit to place a larger culvert. To apply, please visit the individual permits page.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You may be eligible for the general permit for professionally engineered culverts. You will need to apply for a culvert general permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Culvert diagram

Also, please review the Culvert placement worksheet [PDF]. This will help you determine the culvert diameter in inches. When complete, please return to Question 21.

Question 22 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Replace an existing culvert in a lake,” go to Question 30.

If your answer is "Construct a new culvert in a lake,” :

You've answered Construct a new culvert in a lake:

You will need to apply for an individual permit, please visit the individual permits page.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

If your answer is "Replace or repair a culvert in a lake after a natural disaster in a declared disaster area,” go to Question 23.

Question 23 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Rebuild a private culvert” go to Question 24.

If your answer is "Rebuild a public culvert” go to Question 27.

Question 24 :

If your project is in a state or federally declared disaster area, most times a governor's executive order gives the department the authority to expedite the approval of your project if it falls into one or both of these categories. Does your private culvert project:

If your answer is "Provide protection of human health and safety” :

You've answered Provide protection of human health and safety:

If regulated activities must be done immediately to protect human health and safety or resolve an ongoing environmental problem, you must notify the local DNR water management specialist or conservation warden before starting construction. In most cases work can be done immediately with authorization (if needed) provided for the project at a later date.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

If your answer is "Have a previously issued permit” :

You've answered Have a previously issued permit:

If the project was previously issued a permit by the DNR, you can restore or rebuild to the dimensions specified by the original permit. This includes the replacement of previously authorized bridges, culverts or streambank protection projects. Be sure to follow all applicable permit conditions.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

Question 27 :

DNR approval is typically required for repair/replacement of public owned roads, bridges or culverts on navigable waterways. Does your public culvert project:

If your answer is "Need to have temporary repairs immediately for emergency access” :

You've answered Need to have temporary repairs immediately for emergency access:

If DOT or local governments need to do something immediately for emergency access, they may make the temporary repairs to get the culvert open and begin to remove the damaged parts and prep the site for their pending permanent repair. Debris/sediment must be disposed of outside waterways, wetlands and floodplains.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

If your answer is "Replace a previous culvert to pre-disaster conditions for non-emergency access” :

You've answered Replace a previous culvert to pre-disaster conditions for non-emergency access:

If the proposed improvement is to repair or replace the culvert to pre-flood conditions in-kind and at the same location, and includes best management practices for erosion control, DNR review will be simplified and expedited. You must notify the local DNR water management specialist or conservation warden before starting construction.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a culvert in your location.

Question 30 :

Have you received a permit from the DNR for the culvert, or has a previous owner obtained a permit for the existing culvert you want to replace?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You may qualify for an exemption. This means that you may not have to submit a culverts permit application or pay a fee. However, the replacement of your culvert must still meet certain standards:

  • A culvert that is authorized by a permit issued under s. 30.12 or 30.123, Stats., may be replaced provided the construction, placement and maintenance will comply with the same conditions of the original permit. Note: If changes to land use, flood flows, or navigational patterns have occurred since a culvert was originally permitted, the initial standards may no longer be appropriate and may need to be modified.
  • Both ends of the culvert shall be installed so a minimum of 4' with a maximum of 8' of a round culvert or 6' of a pipe arch culvert lies below the bed of the waterway. Note: In most cases, the pipe arch culvert is the recommended culvert design because it is effective in low clearance installations, generally requires less fill, and the wider bottom allows for the better retention of natural substrates.
  • Erosion control measures shall meet or exceed the technical standards for erosion control approved by the department under subch. V of ch. NR 151. Any area where topsoil is exposed during construction shall be immediately seeded and mulched or riprapped to stabilize disturbed areas and prevent soils from being eroded and washed into the waterway. Note: These standards can also be found by visiting Storm water run-off permits OR by viewing the Wisconsin administrative code.

In addition, please review the culvert exemption checklist at exemptions to be sure you meet all of the necessary criteria.

If your answer is "No,” go to Question 31.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

If you would like to request assistance from the DNR to determine if you need to apply for a permit or not, please download and print the Exemption Determination Request Form [PDF]. Fill in all of the requested information, sign the form, and submit it by mail or FAX to the address on the form.

Question 31 :

Is your project site located in an Area of Special Natural Resource Interest (ASNRI), Public Rights Feature (PRF) or a Navigable Tributary to a Trout Stream?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You will need to apply for an individual culvert permit.*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit Application Checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawing [drawing 1 - with engineer] [PDF] for this activity.

If your answer is "No,” go to Question 32.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Surface Water Data Viewer - Designated Waters to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to Question 14 and answer Yes or NO. (If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.)

Question 32 :

Is the culvert you are replacing 24 inches or smaller? AND has the culvert that you want to REPLACE been there for at least three years? Note: The historical presence of a culvert that is no longer in place or was not in place in the past 3 years is NOT considered a replacement.

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You may qualify for an exemption. This means that you may not have to submit a culverts permit application or pay a fee. However, the replacement of your culvert must still meet certain standards:

  • Both ends of the culvert shall be installed so a minimum of 4' with a maximum of 8' of a round culvert or 6' of a pipe arch culvert lies below the bed of the waterway. Note: In most cases, the pipe arch culvert is the recommended culvert design because it is effective in low clearance installations, generally requires less fill, and the wider bottom allows for the better retention of natural substrates.
  • Erosion control measures shall meet or exceed the technical standards for erosion control approved by the department under subch. V of ch. NR 151. Any area where topsoil is exposed during construction shall be immediately seeded and mulched or riprapped to stabilize disturbed areas and prevent soils from being eroded and washed into the waterway. Note: These standards can also be found by visiting Storm water run-off permits OR by viewing the Wisconsin administrative code.

In addition, please review the culvert exemption checklist at exemptions to be sure you meet all of the necessary criteria.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for an individual culvert permit.*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please be aware there may be additional permit standards you must meet. Prior to applying for a permit please review the Permit Application Checklist [PDF] and also be sure to review the Sample Drawing [drawing 1 - with engineer] [PDF] for this activity.

Exemptions

  • Exemptions for this and other activities - choose one of the culvert replacement options.

Notice:
Federal law requires landowners of construction sites with one acre or more of land disturbance to address erosion control and stormwater management. If your project involves the disturbance of an acre or more, please visit Water Permits to apply for a stormwater permit.

Laws

Applicable statutes and codes include Section 30.123, Wis. Stats. [PDF exit DNR] and Chapter NR 320 [PDF exit DNR].

Local permits and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations may also apply. We advise you to contact your local zoning office and your regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office [exit DNR].

Sample drawings and other materials

Last revised: Thursday October 20 2016