State Regulations And Permits

The State of Michigan has several regulatory programs for waterfronts, as described below. The basis for many of these programs is the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994).

Soil Erosion 

The State of Michigan soil erosion control program is overseen by the Department of Environmental Quality. A permit is required for any activity that disturbs one or more acres of land within 500 feet of a lake or stream. Although it is a State standard, it is actually enforced by individual Counties, who issue the permits. Some public agencies, such as MDOT and County Road Commissions, are exempt from permits, but are expected to maintain best erosion prevention practices in their own procedures.

>> Apply for a soil erosion permit


Wetlands are extremely important. They provide habitat, flood control, groundwater recharging, erosion prevention, and can even treat pollution. In order to protect them, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requires a permit and mitigation (and sometimes replacement) in order to disturb any of the following wetlands:

  • Connected to one of the Great Lakes or Lake St. Clair.
  • Located within 1,000 feet of one of the Great Lakes or Lake St. Clair.
  • Connected to an inland lake, pond, river, or stream.
  • Located within 500 feet of an inland lake, pond, river or stream.
  • More than 5 acres in size.

Additionally, some particularly important Great Lakes wetlands have an extra layer of protection under the “Environmental Areas” program, which has a very high bar to be approved for a permit – nearly impossible to clear.

>> Apply for a wetlands permit (if it exists)

Critical Dunes 

The Critical Dunes program protects about 29% of Michigan’s dunes. When originally adopted in 1989, it had extremely stringent standards, including prohibiting construction on the lakeward side of dunes. In 2012, the standards were relaxed, although the dunes are still protected in many ways.

>> Program website

High Risk Erosion Areas 

Construction in High Risk Erosion Areas along the Great Lakes requires a joint permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers. Required setbacks are measured from the “Erosion Hazard Line,” not the Ordinary High Water Mark as with other regulations. Smaller structures are permitted to be closer to the line than larger structures, and septic systems have very large required setbacks.


>> Program website

Coastal Zone Management Program 

The Coastal Zone Management Program is partnership of the State and Federal governments that is designed to better implement lakefront initiatives in many communities. They provide technical assistance, enforcement help, and even grant money for preparing and implementing waterfront plans.

>> Link to program website

Natural Rivers 

The Natural Rivers program includes parts of 16 Michigan rivers:

  • Jordan
  • Betsie
  • Rogue
  • Two Hearted
  • White
  • Boardman
  • Huron
  • Pere Marquette
  • Flat
  • Rifle
  • Lower Kalamazoo
  • Pigeon
  • Au Sable
  • Fox
  • Pine
  • Upper Manistee

The Natural Rivers standards function like zoning standards, and can even be adopted into a local zoning ordinance. If not adopted locally, then they are administered by the State. Natural Rivers standards apply 400 feet from the river bank, and cover the following aspects of site design:

  • Minimum Lot Size
  • Minimum River Frontage
  • Required natural space
    • Flood plain
    • Wetlands
  • Setbacks
    • Structures
    • Septic System

>> Link to program website

Lake Boards 

Lake Boards can be created around any inland lake, and can cross municipal boundaries. Their most crucial power is the ability to create special assessment districts, which can raise money from lakefront property owners for lake protection and improvements. By creating an authority, with its own funding source, dedicated to protecting the lake, residents can take preservation into their own hands.

>> Resources for Lake Boards