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Introduction to Ponds and Chapter 105

Ponds are constructed for many reasons including livestock watering, irrigation, fishing, fire protection, wildlife habitat, recreation, and aesthetics. Many proposed activities involving ponds, such as, new pond construction, modification to existing ponds, and pond maintenance, may be regulated by the PA Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, Chapter 105, and the PA Clean Streams Law. In some cases, pond related activities will require approval or permitting from the Department. When required, DEP review of proposals to construct, modify, or repair dams, or water obstructions and encroachments must consider both the dam safety and water obstruction encroachment regulations under Chapter 105. Within the scope of these regulations, a reviewer must consider impacts to aquatic resources and public safety.

Ponds need water sources, requiring that they are often situated across or near streams, wetlands, or floodways, and can result in impacts to those resources. Most ponds are impounded by dams which may be regulated under Chapter 105 and the Dam Safety and Encroachment Act. If an artificial pond is excavated completely below grade (without constructing an impounding embankment), the construction may be regulated if it is proposed to be placed in regulated waters of the Commonwealth, such as a wetland or stream channel. In some situations, permits may not be required to build a pond. However, once constructed, all ponds are regulated waters of this Commonwealth under the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act.

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New Pond Construction General Information

DEP does not provide advice, guidance, or assistance with pond design or construction methods. Anyone interested in constructing a pond should first call DEP to determine what authorizations, regulatory requirements, and potential mitigation may be involved. You may also want to seek advice from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office. Local contractors, environmental consultants and engineers will be able to provide the most direct advice for planning, design, and construction. However, please recognize that these agencies and consultants are not the appropriate resource or authorized to provide regulatory interpretation. Some County Conservation Districts are delegated certain portions of Chapter 105, they can give some advice, and those Delegated Districts are a good first stop. However, typically the variations in scenarios will encounter permitting or approvals from DEP and you may be directed there.

The sections below cover ponds with different characteristics relating to dams and water resources. Depending on if a pond has a dam or not, impacts water resources, and the specific nature of the dam or impacts can dictate if a permit or approval is required.

Ponds with a Regulated Dam

Most artificial ponds, meaning those ponds created by humans and not formed naturally, in Pennsylvania are created wither solely by or partially by using a dam to impound and hold back water.

The regulatory definition of a dam is: An artificial barrier, together with its appurtenant works, constructed for the purpose of impounding or storing water or other fluid or semifluid, or a refuse bank, fill or structure for highway, railroad or other purposes which does or may impound water or other fluid or semifluid.

If you are considering the construction of a dam, Chapter 105 Rules and Regulations require a person to obtain a Dam Permit from DEP’s Division of Dam Safety to construct a dam when one of the following applies:

  1. The construction of a dam across a watercourse where the contributory drainage area exceeds 100 acres; or
  2. The maximum depth of water measured at the upstream toe to the top of the dam is greater than 15 feet; or
  3. The impounding capacity is greater than 50-acre feet. Examples: A pond 50 acres in surface area and one foot deep on average, a 25-acre pond which averages 2 feet of depth.

Full details on dam regulations can be found in Chapter 105.

Information on Dam Safety Permits and DEP’s Division of Dam Safety can be found on the Dam Safety webpage.

Ponds with Non-jurisdictional (Out of scope) Dams

Ponds can be created using dams where the dam(s) itself do not require a Dam permit under Chapter 105. These dams are non-jurisdictional.

If none of the criteria above are met by a proposed dam, the structure is likely non-jurisdictional and a Dam Permit is not required; however, if the dam is proposed across (or impacts) a stream or impacts a wetland or if a stream or wetland is proposed to be excavated or a wetland impounded, either a Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit or approval of an Environmental Assessment is required. This would be obtained from the appropriate DEP regional Office.

Off-Stream Ponds

Chapter 105 approval for water obstructions and encroachments is not required for ponds proposed off-stream if they are not constructed in a floodway, wetland or other body of water. However, if the pond has a dam which meets the regulated dam criteria a dam permit may be required, see above information.

Intakes - If an intake pipe or channel is proposed to convey water from a watercourse to an off-stream pond, a permit may be required for the intake, such as General Permit 4.

Impacts to Water Resources

Proposals to construct a pond must aim to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) strongly discourages the excavation of wetlands or the construction of ponds on-stream. One of the large losses of wetlands in the state is due to conversion to ponds. Wetlands serve a unique function in the environment, and that function is lost when wetlands are excavated or inundated to construct a pond. While ponds are attractive to humans and several aquatic species, man-made ponds are artificial features and the overall biodiversity of a pond ecosystem is less than that of a wetland. In most cases there are alternate locations to create a pond to fulfill the project purpose and avoid wetland, watercourse, and floodway impacts. If a viable alternative exists but is not chosen, the project may not be approved.

Thermal impacts to streams receiving discharges from ponds can be dramatic. The temperature of water exiting a pond in the summer can be as much as 8-10 degrees warmer than the stream water entering the pond. A proponent for building a pond may be required to demonstrate that a thermal influence will not adversely impact the aquatic community.

Mitigation for Impacts to Wetlands and Watercourses

If wetlands or watercourses (perennial or intermittent streams) are unavoidably impacted during construction, the resources are required to be replaced. Owners may use DEP’s In-Lieu-Fee program or a local mitigation bank to purchase credits to mitigate for their impacts or create replacement resources on their own. This will raise project cost and increase the time it will take to begin to construction.

If wetlands are suspected to exist near a proposed pond location, or may be impacted, a certified wetland consultant must be hired to identify and delineate wetlands and watercourses and conduct the Environmental Assessment.

Common Pond Maintenance Activities and Permit Requirements

Artificial Ponds with Non-Jurisdictional Dams

Maintenance Dredging - Section 105.12(a)(14) of the Department’s Rules and Regulations provides for waiver of Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit requirements for the maintenance of the reservoir area if this maintenance is limited to the impoundment’s original storage capacity and only accumulated sediment is removed. This waiver only applies when:

  • The contributory drainage area is less than or equal to 100 acres.
  • The greatest depth of water at maximum storage elevation is less than or equal to 15 feet.
  • The impounding capacity at maximum storage elevation is less than or equal to 50- acre feet.

Pond and dam owners should still obtain Erosion and Sediment Control Plan approval from their County Conservation District.

Dam/Outlet Repair - The Department’s Rules and Regulations do not regulate the repair and maintenance of non-jurisdictional dams, which includes those meeting the criteria Section 105.12(a)(14). Therefore, permits and approvals from DEP for this work on non-jurisdictional dams is not required. However, an Erosion and Sedimentation Control plan must be implemented.

Note: Any activity which changes the cross-section of a pond and does not qualify as maintenance requires a Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit from the appropriate DEP Regional Office. Example: construction of boat docks, piers, islands, or expanding the area of a pond.

Jurisdictional Dams

Maintenance Dredging - Per Section 105.131(c) of the Department’s Rules and Regulations, removal of accumulated sediments from a reservoir area behind a permitted dam is considered maintenance and does not require further Department authorization provided this activity does not expand the reservoir volume beyond the original design storage capacity.

Note: Any activity which changes the cross-section of a pond and does not qualify as maintenance requires a Water Obstruction and Encroachment Permit from the appropriate DEP Regional Office. Example: Construction of boat docks, piers, islands.

Dam/Outlet Repair - Any dam repair or modification of any kind to a jurisdictional dam should be presented to DEP’s Division of Dam Safety for a determination of regulatory requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Note: While the activities described below may or may not require Chapter 105 authorization, the development of an erosion and sedimentation control plan and the implementation and maintenance of erosion and sedimentation control Best Management Practices is required under Chapter 102. Please contact your County Conservation District or the applicable DEP Regional Office regarding erosion and sedimentation control plan and permitting requirements for your project.

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Contacts & Additional Resource

Contact information for DEP regional offices and County Conservation Districts can be found on the Contact Page.

Erosion and sediment (E&S) control measures are required to protect receiving waters during earth disturbance activities. You may contact the local county conservation district regarding E&S control requirements.

Additionally, a federal permit is likely required for impacts to wetlands and watercourses. Contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for more information.

Philadelphia District

Baltimore District

Pittsburgh District

Penn State Extension has many resources on ponds and pond maintenance. See the Penn State Extension Pond Management website.