How to Build a Fire Retention Pond: Permits and Zoning

As you now know, there’s much more to building a fire retention pond than simply digging a hole and letting it fill with water. If you don’t have a background in engineering, you’ll likely need a bit of outside help to keep your project organized and running smoothly.

Legal Requirements: Federal and State

There are several legal liabilities involved in pond construction. You don’t want to climb a mountain of red tape in order to get a permit for your retention pond. Thankfully, this can be avoided by carefully considering the size and location of the fire retention pond you wish to build.

Many landowners don’t realize that they don’t actually own the water that flows across their property. In fact, the majority of lakes, wetlands, rivers and streams – even the ones you could cross with a single jump – are legally considered Waters of the United States. As such, doing anything that impacts water from these sources requires written permission from the EPA under the Clean Water Act. 

Keep in mind that water which is not covered under federal jurisdiction, may still be covered under state laws. For instance, every drop of water in California is regulated, whether it’s in Shasta Lake, an aquifer beneath the Central Valley, or simply a puddle on the streets of San Francisco.

Do I Need a Permit for a Fire Retention Pond?

Building a fire retention pond on your property often requires permits from local agencies. The first step in figuring out what permits you will need is to call your local zoning board. The zoning board itself will be able to help point you in the right directions for additional permits as well as helping you get your property zoned for a pond.

Ponds for legitimate agricultural purposes such as fire retention ponds, irrigation ponds, or livestock ponds are exempt from most permitting requirements. However, you will still need to file for this exemption. 

If you want to use your fire retention pond for a secondary purpose like swimming, you’ll likely need a permit. This is granted at the discretion of your state’s environmental protection division, with is the state-level enforcement section of the EPA. 

The farther away your pond is from a year-round stream, the easier it will be to obtain a permit. Typically, fire retention ponds installed on private property, distant from local communities, require less zoning and have less restrictions. 

Who Can I Contact for Assistance?

Before you break ground on your new fire retention pond, you should consult with your local Natural Resource Conservation Service office and find out about any regulations that may pertain to your property and project. The NRCS is a branch of the USDA that’s charged with helping landowners conserve water resources and soil. As a result, they are equipped to advise you on whether you need a permit and, if so, which agencies you must apply to. The NRCS provides free technical assistance (and sometimes even financial subsidies) for building fire retention ponds.

Once all needed permits have been obtained, your creative process can begin!

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