Protected Shoreland FAQ

What is the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act? 

The Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (RSA 483-B) establishes buffers known as “protected shoreland”, located along public waters. Within the protected shoreland, the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (SWQPA) regulates certain activities such as a lot subdivision, land development, and vegetation management, among other things.

Where is the protected shoreland?

The protected shoreland is within 250 feet of the reference line of public waters. The protected shoreland are those lands located within 250 feet of the reference line of public waters; this 250 feet is measured from the reference line horizontally as measured from a bird’s eye view. Public waters include: 

  • Lakes, ponds and impoundments greater than 10 acres; 

  • Year-round flowing waters (streams and rivers) of fourth order or higher

  • Designated rivers and river segments; and 

  • Coastal waters, being all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, including the Great Bay Estuary and associated tidal rivers, tidal marshes, rivers, and estuaries.  

 

 

 

What is a “fourth order stream” and how do I determine if a stream or river is “fourth order or higher”? 

Representation of the stream order for a watershed. Stream order is a classification system for all streams and rivers. The smallest streams which have no other streams feeding them, are first order streams. When two first order streams merge, they form a second order stream. Continuing the ordering system, when two second order streams merge, a larger, third order stream is formed, and so on. In New Hampshire, all fourth Order and greater streams and rivers are protected under the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (SWQPA). The SWQPA also applies to smaller rivers – first, second, and third order – that are designated under the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Program.

 

What is a Designated River?

A designated river is a river that is protected for its outstanding natural and cultural resources in accordance with RSA 483, The Rivers Management & Protection Act. The Interactive Web Map of Designated River Corridors may be used to determine if a project is within ¼ mile of a designated river, including some lakes or ponds that are dammed rivers.

Where is the waterfront buffer? 

The waterfront buffer is the area of the protected shoreland located within 50 feet of the reference line of public waters. The waterfront buffer is the area of the protected shoreland located within 50 feet of the reference line elevation of public waters, measured horizontally.

Where is the reference line located?

The reference line is the edge of the water body at its full volume, from which setbacks, such as the limits of the protected shoreland, are determined. The type of public waters determines the location of the reference line:  

  • An example of the location of the reference line for a river is indicated by the yellow line. For year-round flowing waters of fourth order or higher and Designated Rivers, the reference line is the ordinary high water mark. The ordinary high water mark is the line on the shore, running parallel to the main stem of the river, established by the fluctuations of water. It is indicated by physical characteristics such as a clear, natural line impressed on the immediate bank, shelving, changes in the character of soil, destruction of terrestrial vegetation, the presence of litter and debris, or other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas. Where the ordinary high water mark is not easily discernible, the ordinary high water mark may be determined by NHDES.  

 

  • An example of the location of the reference line for coastal waters is indicated by the yellow line. For coastal waters, the reference line is the highest observable tide line, which means a line defining the furthest landward limit of tidal flow. This does not include storm events. It can be recognized by indicators such as the presence of a strand of trash and debris, the landward margin of salt tolerant vegetation, or a physical barrier that blocks further flow of the tide. 

 

 

Where is the woodland buffer? 

The woodland buffer is the area of the protected shoreland located within 150 feet of the reference line of public waters. The woodland buffer is the area of the protected shoreland located within 150 feet of the reference line of public waters, measured horizontally. The woodland buffer includes the waterfront buffer, which is the area located within 50 feet of the reference line.

 

What is a primary structure?

A primary structure is one that is central to the fundamental use of the property and is not accessory to the use of another structure on the same premises. Primary structures on residential lots are typically houses and include all attached decks. There can be multiple primary structures on a single lot. A structure means anything constructed or erected for the support, shelter or enclosure of persons, animals, goods, or property of any kind, with a fixed permanent location on or in the ground. The function and use of the structure in the context of the overall use of a given property is what determines whether or not it meets the definition of “primary structure.” 

What is a nonconforming structure?

Nonconforming structure means a structure that, either individually or when viewed in combination with other structures on the property, does not conform to the provisions of the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act. 

An example of a nonconforming structure would be a house, including all attached decks, that is partially or completely located within 50 feet of the reference line of public waters, and therefore does not meet the minimum distance from the reference line established by law for primary structures. 

What is an accessory structure and what are the accessory structure limitations?

“Accessory structure” means anything constructed or erected for the support, shelter, or enclosure of persons, animals, goods, or property of any kind, with a fixed permanent location on or in the ground, that provide functions that are complementary to those of the primary structure on the lot, but not essential to the overall use of the property. Examples of accessory structures include, but are not limited to: paths; paved, dirt, or gravel driveways; patios; tennis courts; woodsheds; storage sheds; detached garages; retaining walls; and any other outbuilding or improved surface. Fences and structures that are not maintained in a permanent, fixed location such as tents, picnic tables, and lawn furniture are not considered accessory structures. Attached decks also are not accessory structures; they are an extension of the primary structure. 

 

The size and location of accessory structures are strictly regulated within the waterfront buffer, which is the area of the property that extends 50 feet landward from the reference line. For a comprehensive explanation of the accessory structure limitations, please refer to the Shoreland Accessory Structure Fact Sheet.