Permits for County Drain Activities

Contact: Amy Berry 517-284-5532

Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resources and Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, was amended in 2013 to clarify the exemption and regulation of activities relating to County Drains. Permits under Part 301 are not required for maintenance of a drain that either was legally established and constructed pursuant to the drain code of 1956 before January 1, 1973, or was constructed or modified under a permit issued under Part 301. This exemption from permitting does not apply to legally established drains constituting mainstream portions of certain natural watercourses identified in rule. “Maintenance of a drain" means the physical preservation of the location, depth, and bottom width of a drain and appurtenant structures to restore the function and approximate capacity of the drain as constructed or modified and includes, but is not limited to, the following if performed with best management practices:

  • Sediment removal to original contours.

  • Reshaping side slopes.

  • Bank stabilization to address erosion (materials used for stabilization must be compatible with existing bank or bed materials).

  • Culvert replacement, including culvert extensions of not more than 24 additional feet per culvert.

  • Armoring, lining, or piping if a previously armored, lined, or piped section is being repaired and all work occurs within the footprint of the previous work.

  • Replacement of existing control structures, if the original function of the drain is not changed and the original approximate capacity of the drain is not increased.

  • Repair of stabilization structures.

  • Emergency reconstruction of recently damaged parts of drains. Emergency reconstruction must occur within a reasonable period of time after damage occurs in order to qualify for this exemption.


Amendments regarding the exemption and regulation of activities relating to County Drains were also made to Part 303 of NREPA at the same time.

County Drain General Permit Category

The DEQ issued a County Drains General Permit Category on February 19, 2014 that is intended to provide a mechanism for specific drain projects to receive expedited permit processing for activities under Part 301 of the NREPA. Activities undertaken by an individual, agency, or developer that are not part of a drain project conducted pursuant to the drain code are not included in the category.

The DEQ has also developed a short application form for projects that meet the General Permit Category for County Drains. This application may be used by a Drain Commissioner, Drainage Board, or by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) on behalf of an Intercounty Drainage Board, for non-exempt activities that meet all requirements set forth in the General Permit Category. If a project includes any activity that does not fit the GP, then the entire project must be applied for through the regular Joint Permit Application (JPA) process. Drain activities that typically require a JPA application include (but are not limited to) deepening, widening, straightening, extending, creating, enclosing, or adding branches to a drain.

Request for Coordination

The DEQ, Water Resources Division (WRD) has established a voluntary process for coordinating with staff prior to submitting permit applications for anticipated County Drain projects. This form may be submitted annually by a County Drain Commissioner, Drainage Board, or by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) on behalf of an Intercounty Drainage Board, to inform the DEQ of the known County Drain Project locations planned for the year along with the anticipated date of application submittal for each project location. One form may be submitted for each County or Intercounty Drainage Board showing multiple project locations. Prior to commencement of a project, a separate permit application must be submitted for each project location.

The Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners (MACDC) and the DEQ WRD have been partnering to provide training and educational materials on permitting requirements for County Drain projects.  As part of that effort, the MACDC has created several additional resources for County Drain Commissioners regarding permitting requirements.

MACDC Summary of Activities and Flow Chart