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 Lakes, Estuaries
and Lagoons

Permitting and Regulation Directory


ERM Directory


Excavation and Littoral Zones


Excavation in Palm Beach County
Excavating is a common construction practice in South Florida for a number of reasons. Mines are excavated to extract materials from the earth such as fossilized shell used to make concrete. Lakes are excavated to acquire fill for construction and to store water.

The Problem
Rapid development in South Florida during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in many excavated lakes and mines becoming hazardous to people and the surrounding environment. The excavations were too deep, poorly sloped, and had poor water quality.

The Solution
In 1986 an ordinance was adopted to oversee certain excavations in unincorporated Palm Beach County to ensure the following:
  • Reduce health and safety hazards
  • Prevent soil erosion
  • Contain stormwater runoff to reduce flooding
  • Increase water quality through nutrient uptake
  • Provide habitat for wildlife
To view the current County law governing excavation, Article 4.D of the Unified Land Development Code, click here.

ERM's Role in Excavation
Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management (ERM) regulates several types of excavations in unincorporated Palm Beach County that occur as a result of many commercial, government, and planned unit development projects.
It is important to note that Palm Beach County Planning and Zoning, Palm Beach County Health Department and South Florida Water Management also govern certain types of excavations. For more information on their rules and regulations concerning excavations, contact the appropriate agency.

Why Do Some Lakes Have Littoral Zones?
Some of the excavations that ERM oversees are required to install native aquatic vegetation along the shoreline in an area called the "littoral zone". All lakes larger than 1 acre and deeper than 6 feet are required to have a littoral zone which is critical for erosion control, wildlife habitat and enhanced water quality.
Long term compliance of littoral zones is regulated by ERM to ensure the following:

  • At least 80% of the littoral area is covered with native aquatic plants
  • No more than 10% of the littoral area is covered with exotic vegetation

Important Littoral Zone Facts

  • Littoral zone size is determined by the length of the lake's shoreline

    • 16 square feet per linear foot for bulkheaded lakes (regardless of use)
    • 8 square feet per linear foot for all other lakes
  • Lakes excavated prior to 1987 are not required to have littoral zones
  • Developers install and property owners/HOA's maintain littoral zones
  • Multiple lake systems may include the required littoral zones in specific lakes
  • A lake's slope should gradually drop down by 1 foot for every 10 feet out
  • A 20 foot maintenance easement exists around entire lake
  • Algae growth is cyclical and increases during hot weather
  • Littoral plants should be diverse and include at least 5 different species
  • Littoral plants that recruit or fill in the littoral zone indicate a healthy lake
  • Native plants within the littoral zone cannot be removed or trimmed
  • Some littoral plants go dormant, turn brown, or loose their leaves in the winter

Excavation Forms


Related Links:


Current Highlights and Upcoming Events

  • Hungryland Slough Natural Area - REOPENED
  • Lake Worth Lagoon Initiative Grant Program
    Now accepting applications for FY 2017. Deadline to submit is August 15, 2016. [LINK]
  • Pawpaw Preserve - UPDATE
    The Pawpaw Preserve Natural Area draft management plan is now available for public review. Public comments can be emailed to,or can be provided at the May 26, 2016 Public Hearing and Open House. Click on the link for time and location. [LINK]
  • Adventure Awaits - Sunrise Hike, May 7th 6:30am
    Join us for a guided hike through Cypress Creek Natural Area in Jupiter. For more details and to reserve your spot, click on the link to the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Firewalk, The Spark of Life, May 24th 5:30pm
    Join us at Sweetbay Natural Area in Palm Beach Gardens for this guided hike. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Namaste, Yoga in the Natural Areas, May 25th 6:30pm
    Join us at Yamato Scrub Natural Area in Boca Raton for this unique experience. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Lake Worth Lagoon Fishing Challenge, June 1st - 30th
    Interested in helping collect valuable fisheries information while getting a chance to win a prize? If so, you'll want to participate in this free fishing event. Visit the web page for details. [LINK]
  • Running Wild, June 4th 7:00am
    Run with ERM at Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area will cover approximately 10 miles and take participants through a variety of habitats on a combination of hardened and primitive trails. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Sunset Photography Workshop, June 10th 6:00pm
    Take part in a guided photography tour of Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm Beach. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Sunset Paddle, June 15th 5:30pm
    Come paddle with ERM staff to Fullerton Island in Jupiter as the sun sets over this recently restored 12 acre maritime hammock island with newly created seagrass and mangrove habitat. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Growing Up Wild, Connecting Kids to Nature, June 18th 9:00am
    ERM staff will lead you and your child on a guided walk through the woods at Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area highlighting points of interest associated with "Birds in Your Backyard" followed by an arts and crafts project each child can take home. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Adventure Awaits - Bike and Hike, June 25th 8:00am
    Discover the trails of Loxahatchee Slough with ERM staff during this unique tour that incorporates cycling and hiking. For more details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page. [EVENT PAGE]
  • Environmental Times Newsletter
    Read the latest edition Spring 2016 for highlights on artificial reefs, climate change, LagoonFest and more. [LINK]
  • Volunteer Accomplishments in 2015
    See what ERM's volunteers were up to in 2015. [PDF]
  • Mosquito Control Update - Zika Virus
    While ERM's Mosquito Control Division is hard at work taking proactive steps to reducing mosquito popluations learn how you can protect yourself and reduce your exposure to mosquitoe-borne diseases. [PDF]
  • Scavenger Hunts
    Are available at several natural areas for youngsters to complete to recieve their Natural Area Youth Explorer certificate. [PDF]
  • ERM's Status Reports
    Stay up to date on our projects with these monthly publications. [LINK]