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Dredging and Dredged Material Management Dredging and Dredged Material Management

Dredging is the removal of material from the bottom of lakes, rivers, harbors and other water bodies. Most dredging is done to maintain or deepen navigation channels, anchorages or berthing areas for the safe passage of boats and ships.   Dredging of contaminated areas may also be performed for the express purpose of reducing the exposure of marine biota and humans to contaminants and/or to prevent the spread of contaminants to other areas of the water body.  This type of dredging is termed "environmental dredging."  The increasing need for wider and deeper channels and different placement methods has spawned the development of the many types of dredges.

Dredging is necessary because of the natural process of sedimentation; sand and silt that washes downstream gradually fills channels and harbors. Sedimentation is a problem everywhere from small marinas to the massive New York/New Jersey harbor complex.  Managing dredged material in an environmentally sound manner is not just environmentally responsible -- IT’S THE LAW.  Before dredged material is authorized for disposal, it must satisfy, among many other things, a three part review in accordance with the applicable statutes, and regulations. 

  • First, there must be a demonstrated need for the dredging. 

  • Second, there must be a comprehensive analysis of all reasonable methods of, and places for, disposal of the dredged material. 

  • Third, testing must be performed to ensure that the material to be placed will not harm the environment into which it is placed.  A technical framework for such evaluations is set forth in Evaluating Environmental Effects of Dredged Material Disposal Alternatives.

EPA Region 2 has formed the Dredged Material Management Team to ensure protection of human health and the environment from potential adverse effects which may be associated with dredging in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.  For more information on dredging projects elsewhere in the U.S., please refer to EPA's National Dredging Team and EPA's National Dredged Materials Management Program.

The New York- New Jersey harbor is home to the largest port complex on the East Coast of North America. The Port of New York and New Jersey Exit EPA disclaimer annually handles two million loaded containers, nearly half the North Atlantic total (which includes bulk cargo, automobiles and petroleum, etc.). This activity creates approximately 200,000 port-related or port-dependent jobs and annually generates $30 billion in revenues and $620 million in state and local taxes. The economic viability of the port is dependent on regular cycles of dredging to keep berths open and to allow safe navigation.  EPA together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the States of New York and New Jersey, interested stakeholders and the public have been working to continue the operation and economic development of the Port while preserving, conserving and restoring the harbor's natural resources. 

Sediments in and around cities and industrial areas are often contaminated with a variety of pollutants. These pollutants are introduced to waterways from point sources such as combined sewer overflows, municipal and industrial discharges and spills or may be introduced from non-point sources such as surface runoff and atmospheric deposition.

The development of environmental criteria along with national laws and regulations assist the EPA in its mission to protect and preserve the environment.  The disposal of dredged materials in the ocean cannot occur unless a permit is issued (under the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, using EPA's environmental criteria and subject to EPA's concurrence.   EPA is also responsible for designating recommended ocean disposal sites for use under such permits.   These responsibilities are carried out in Region 2 by the Dredged Materials Management Team (DMMT). 

In cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and local governments, EPA must evaluate alternative disposal options when deciding the correct placement of dredged material.  These options include open-water, inland water, upland, and confined disposal.  USACE has performed an evaluation of various disposal scenarios.  Please refer to USACE's Dredged Material Management Plan. Exit EPA disclaimer    Through new technologies, such as decontamination, dredged material can become a productive material that can be processed in conjunction with widely used products such as bricks, cement and glass.

Dredging in action

Dredged Material Management In:

New York-New Jersey harbor

Long Island Sound

Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

Great Lakes Exit EPA disclaimer


Region 2 Dredging Links

Free PDF reader available 113 Rule

Dredging Laws and Regulations


Options for Dredged Material Placement

Federal, State and Local Dredging Contacts

Dredging Projects

Types of Dredging





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