Shoreland Protection

Shoreline Water Quality Protections Act

Frequent Questions

(view Shoreline Rules .pdf)

Do you need a shoreland permit? Using this online tool will help determine what permits may be required.

What is the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act?

The SWQPA (RSA 483-B), originally called the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (CSPA) was enacted into law in the 1991 session of the Legislature. The act established minimum standards for the subdivision, use and development of the shorelands along the state’s larger water bodies.

In April and July of 2008, the act was amended and several changes took effect including limitations on impervious surfaces, new vegetation maintenance requirements and the establishment of a permit requirement for many, but not all, construction, excavation and filling activities within the protected shoreland.

Where is the protected shoreland located?

The protected shoreland extends 250 feet landward (horizontal surveyors line) from the reference line of protected water bodies.

What activities require a shoreland permit?

New construction or construction that modifies the footprint of existing impervious surfaces on a lot within the protected shoreland, using mechanized equipment to either excavate, remove or form a cavity within the ground within the protected shoreland and filling any area within the protected shoreland with rocks, soil, gravel or sand requires a shoreland permit.

What activities DO NOT require a shoreland permit?

Many activities within the protected shoreland have been identified as not requiring a shoreland permit because the activity does not constitute construction, excavation or filling.

These activities include, but are not limited to:


    • Trimming, pruning, and thinning of branches to the extent necessary to protect structures, maintain clearances, and provide views.
    • Maintenance of legal, existing, altered areas, such as mowing lawns, raking leaves and pine needles, mulching landscaped areas and haying fields.
    • Planting one or more trees within existing altered areas more than 50 feet from the reference line with mechanized equipment.
    • Planting of non-invasive vegetation and maintenance of existing gardens.
    • Hand-pulling or use of hand tools to remove invasive species or other noxious or harmful plants such as poison ivy, including the root systems, provided that any area exceeding 10 square feet without vegetation be replanted with non-invasive, non-harmful species.
    • Placement of stepping stones, provided no root systems are removed to accommodate their placement.
    • Placement or installation of readily moved items such as picnic tables, lawn chairs, and swing sets.
    • Construction or installation of fences using hand tools.
    • Construction of a single accessory structure, such as a shed, greater than 50 feet from the reference line and is less than 150 sq ft in size.
    • Maintenance, repair or modification of an existing driveway, including repaving, provided that there is no increase in impervious area.
    • Maintenance, repair or modification of an existing primary or accessory structure that does not:
      • Alter the footprint or impervious area of the structure.
      • For nonconforming structures erected prior to 1994 that do not meet the 50 foot primary structure setback, extend living space closer to public waters.
      • Require, or result in, the alteration of previously unaltered areas.
      • Require, or result in, any excavation or filling within the protected shoreland
      • Exceed the criteria of the Shoreland Rule (Env-Wq 1405) associated with accessory structures.
    • Modifications to an existing structure that minimally changes the outside dimensions of the structure, provided the work does not require excavation or filling such as installing a skylight or dormer or putting new siding over old siding.
    • Installing private water facilities such as a well including the trenching associated with connecting the well to a residential dwelling. o Forest management that is not associated with shoreland development or land conversion that is conducted in compliance with RSA 227-J:9.
    • Forestry conducted by or under the direction of a water supplier for the purpose of managing a water supply watershed. o Agricultural activities and operations defined in RSA 21:34-a and as governed by RSA 430.
    • Digging test pits for the purposes of determining suitability for wastewater disposal under RSA 485-A:29 relating to subdivisions or septic systems, provided there is no disruption of ground cover within 50 feet of the shoreline and no test pits within 75 feet of the shoreline.
    • Replacing utility poles or guy wires using mechanized equipment, provided that appropriate siltation and erosion controls are used and all temporary impacts are restored.



What are impervious surfaces?

Impervious surfaces are modified surfaces that cannot effectively absorb and infiltrate water. Examples of impervious surfaces include, but are not limited to, roofs and unless designed to effectively absorb or infiltrate water decks, patios, and paved, gravel, or crushed stone driveways, parking areas, and sidewalks. Exposed ledge on a property is not considered a modified surface and is not considered when calculating the total impervious area of a lot within the protected shoreland

Can I use fertilizer or pesticides within the protected shoreland?

No fertilizer, except limestone, can be used within 25 feet of the reference line. Beyond 25 feet, slow or controlled release fertilizer may be used. Always check with local town ordinances as several towns have restrictions that are more stringent than the SWQPA.

Pesticide use is prohibited within 25 feet of the reference line per Administrative Rules Pes 1001.01 (NH Dept. of Agriculture) and may only be applied by a licensed applicator with a permit from the NH Agricultural Department.

Can I cut trees within the protected shoreland?

Yes, trees and saplings can be removed from the protected shoreland. Trees and saplings removed within 50 feet from the reference line may be removed in accordance with a grid and point system, and trees removed between 50 and 150 feet from the reference line must comply with the unaltered state requirement. There are no limitations on tree removal beyond 150 feet from the reference line. The Vegetation Maintenance within the Protect Shoreland

Do I need a shoreland permit to install or repair a septic system?

In accordance with Env-Wq 1406.04(d)(8), if an existing septic system has failed and the septic system can be repaired in accordance with Env-Wq 1002.74 or if a new septic approval is obtained that proposes no increases in sewerage loading from the structure(s) served by the system, a shoreland impact permit is not required provided the new system meets the septic setback requirement of RSA 483-B:9, V, (c) and the unaltered state requirements of RSA 483-B:9, V, (b) to the greatest extent feasible.

Installation of new septic systems on previously undeveloped lots and installation of replacement septic systems that must occur as a result of proposed increases in sewerage loading from the existing structure(s) requires a shoreland impact permit.

Can I repair or expand my house if it is a non-conforming structure?

Yes, non-conforming structures may be repaired or expanded. In many cases, non-conforming structures can be repaired without a shoreland permit, including vertical expansions. Maintenance, repair, modifications and vertical expansion of existing, legal, nonconforming primary structures does not require a shoreland permit if the existing impervious area footprint is not modified, there is no expansion of interior living space and the project does not require excavation or filling.

Projects that involve expanding the interior living space of existing, legal, non-conforming primary structures require a shoreland permit as well as a redevelopment waiver request. Always check with local town ordinances as several towns have restrictions that are more stringent than the State of NH.

What are examples of projects that do not require a redevelopment waiver?

- A project that does not change the footprint of the existing structure, but expands the structure upward (vertically) such as the expansion or changes to the outside dimensions of a primary structure including replacement of a low pitched roof with a gambrel roof and the addition of dormer windows or gambrel dormers to a roof.

- The complete replication of all aspects of a primary structure. o A project in which there are no changes to the exterior footprint and outside dimensions, but there are changes in the construction materials and/ or interior layout.

- The replacement of a piling or pad foundation with a standard poured concrete foundation if the new foundation is in the original footprint, located underground, does not create additional living space, and does not disturb or change the existing contours (topography).

- The addition of a three season porch (may not be insulated, heated, contain sliding windows, sash windows, permanent windows or any windows that can open and close) or deck if the deck does not extend more than 12’ closer to the reference line, is not over the bank of the water body or over the water.

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