Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), United States

caption Wetlands in the coastal zone. (Source: NOAA)


The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA) governs federal, state, and local management of the coastal zone, which comprises the "coastal waters (including the lands therein and thereunder) and the adjacent shorelands (including the waters therein and thereunder), strongly influenced by each other and in proximity to the shorelines of the several coastal states"[1].  Landscapes in the coastal zone include "islands, transitional and intertidal areas, salt marshes, wetlands, and beaches"[2]. The boundaries of the zone extend inland only so far as is necessary to manage the shorelands and are determined as part of each state's Coastal Zone Management Plan.

The Act authorized the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work with coastal states to establish coastal zone management plans.  The CZMA also allows NOAA to administer grants to the states to implement management plans, coastal resource improvement plans, coastal nonpoint source pollution control measures, and coastal zone enhancement.  Also, it authorizes NOAA to award the Walter B. Jones Excellence in Coastal Zone Management Awards.

The original Act established the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.  The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which arose from 2002's Department of Commerce and Related Agencies Appropriation Act and is codified in Title 16 as part of the CZMA, provides land acquisition funds for the Reserve System[3]

An additional program, the National Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute, was created by a 1984 amendment.  The Oregon State Marine Science Center operates the institute.  It engages in research and educational demonstrations to promote responsible ocean and coastal resource development[4].


Congress's stated purpose in enacting the CZMA was to encourage the states to "preserve, protect, develop, and restore" the nation's coastal zone[5] through the implementation of management programs[6] for controlling development[7], protecting natural resources[8], restoring urban waterfronts[9], and expanding public recreational access to the coast[10].  The CZMA was designed to provide for public notification and involvement in coastal zone management[11] and cooperation among state, local, and federal agencies[12],[13]


The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has the primary responsibility for executing the terms of the Act.  The National Ocean Service's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (an office within NOAA) oversees implementation of the Act and manages the National Estuarine Reserve System.

Coastal Zone Management Plans

The National Coastal Zone Management Program is a "voluntary partnership between the federal government and U.S. coastal and Great Lake states [...] authorized by the [CZMA] to address national coastal issues"[14].  The program authorizes NOAA to issue administrative grants for coastal zone management[15] to states that have satisfactorily developed coastal zone management plans[16].

Management Plan Contents

A management plan must be in accordance with any rules or regulations issued by NOAA under the CZMA[17].

A plan must outline:

  • the boundaries of the relevant coastal zone[18];
  • what constitutes a permissible land or water use[19];
  • special areas of concern[20];
  • means by which the state would control land and water uses[21],[22];
  • priority use guidelines[23];
  • organizational structure for plan implementation[24];
  • planning processes for beach protection and access[25];
  • planning processes for energy facility siting[26];
  • erosion control measures[27];
  • mechanisms for cooperation with other local, regional, interstate, and area agencies[28];
  • procedures for designating areas to be preserved or restored[29] and for areas with nationally significant resources[30]
  • methods of assuring that regulations would not unreasonably restrict or exclude regionally beneficial land and water uses[31];
  • mechanisms for allowing public participation[32] and for ensuring state agency adherence to the plan[33]; and
  • methods for implementing and enforcing the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program[34].

Management Plan Approval

States submit their draft management plans to NOS's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM).  OCRM must review the plan for all necessary contents and verify that:

  • that the plan does not conflict with any plans developed by local, area, regional, or relevant interstate agencies[35];
  • that the state held public hearings as part of the development of the plan[36];
  • approval of the state's governor[37];
  • designation and organization of a state agency to be responsible for the management plan[38],[39]; and
  • that the plan gives adequate consideration to the national interest involved in planning for and managing the coastal zone[40].

If OCRM finds that any element of the plan would conflict with existing local, regional, areawide, or interstate management programs, the designated state agency must send notice of the program to the relevant local zoning agency[41].  During an ensuing 30-day waiting period, the state may not take any action to implement the management plan[42].  The local government body may, in those thirty days, submit comments to the state management agency[43], and the state agency must consider those comments in its final formulation of the plan[44].  The state management agency may also choose to hold a public hearing on the comments[45].


A state agency wishing to amend its management plan must notify OCRM of the proposed amendments[46].  OCRM should approve or reject the amendment within thirty days[47] or within 120 days, if NOAA requires such an extension to comply with NEPA[48]

If a proposed amendment is approved on a preliminary basis, OCRM may release grant funds to the state to begin implementing the changes[49].  Such preliminary approval may not be renewed and can extend no longer than six months[50].

Coastal Resource Improvement Program

The CZMA authorized the Coastal Resource Improvement Program to preserve and restore areas with conservation, recreational, ecological, or aesthetic values that contain one or more nationally significant coastal resources[51].  Under the program, NOAA issues one-to-one matching grants[52] to state coastal zone management agencies to administer coastal resource improvement plans.  The plans may, among other things, provide for:
caption The Albany, New York waterfront revitalization project is one of many such urban waterfront projects funded in part by the Coastal Resource Improvement Program. (Source:
  • restoration and enhancement of shellfish production[53];
  • redevelopment of urban waterfronts and ports[54];
  • public access to publich beaches and other coastal areas[55]; or
  • regulation of state agency permitting processes for coastal zone aquaculture facilities[56].

The states may use these grants to acquire land[57], fund minor construction projects (i.e., walkways and fences)[58], rehabilitate historic buildings and structures[59], acquire and restore urban piers for public and appropriate commercial use[60], construct shoreline stabilizing structures (i.e., bulkheads)[61], remove or replace pilings in urban waterfront areas[62], develop engineering reports[63], or run educational/interpretational programs[64].  Any grants awarded to the state management agency may be allocated by the state to local government bodies, pending NOAA approval[65].

Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program

All states receiving federal assistance for approved coastal zone management plans must develop a Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program to be approved by NOAA[66].  The program serves to extend state nonpoint source pollution management programs developed under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act insofar as the program relates to land and water uses affecting the coastal zone[67].

A state's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution program must provide a process for identification of land uses that would be potentially harmful to threatened coastal waters or to those waters that consistently fail to m
caption Nonpoint source pollution flows from a developed area into a body of water. (Source: NOAA)
aintain applicable water standards[68].  Also, it must identify critical coastal areas adjacent to such waters[69] and outline methods for managing those critical coastal areas and waters and for controllling potentially harmful land uses[70].  Once a plan has been approved, the state management agency is primarily responsible for implementing and enforcing its terms[71],[72].

Additionally, the state management agency should provide technical assistance to local governments and the public for program implementation[73].

If a state does not submit a Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution management plan for NOAA review, the agency may withhold administrative grants for coastal zone management[74].  Also, it can withhold grants for which the state is eligible under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act[75].

NOAA can provide federal grants for a state's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program for up to 50 percent of the total program cost[76],[77].  In addition to approving and funding coastal nonpoint source pollution management plans, NOAA, through OCRM, is authorized under the CZMA to provide technical assistance to state and local governments for developoing and implementing the management plans[78].  Such assistance can include sharing methods for assessing water quality impacts of land use[79] or coastal development[80] or maintaining an inventory of model ordinances[81].   NOAA, in conjuction with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, publishes and revises guidance for developing coastal nonpoint source pollution management measures[82].

Coastal Zone Management Fund

The Act required the Secretary of Commerce to establish and maintain a Coastal Zone Management Fund[83].  The Fund comprises loan repayments from the states and fees collected from federal agency appeals following state objection to federal agency activities[84].

NOAA controls the appropriation of amounts from the Fund, which may be used to address administrative costs associated with the act[85], for emergency grants to state agencies to tackle unforeseen issues[86], to fund the Walter B. Jones Excellence in Coastal Zone Managment awards[87], to assist states with investigation and application of the public trust doctrine[88], to finance projects which have high potential for improving coastal zone management[89], and to finance regional management projects[90].

Coastal Zone Enhancement Grants

The CZMA authorizes NOAA to award coastal zone enhancement grants to state coastal zone management agenicies[91].  Unlike many of the other grants available to the states under the Act, coastal zone enhancement grants do not require the state to contribute any portion of a project's cost[92].  The grants are to be used to meet one or more "coastal enhancement objectives"[93], which include:

  • protection, restoration, or enhancement of coastal wetlands[94];
  • creation of new wetlands[95];
  • managment or elimination of development in "hazard areas" where significant threats exist to property or life[96];
  • management of the effects of sea level rise and Great Lakes rise[97];
  • creation of opportunities for public access to coastal areas with recreational, cultural, or ecological value[98];
  • reduction of marine debris[99];
  • implementation of procedures to control cumulative and secondary developmet impacts on coastal resources[100];
  • implementation of special area management plans[101];
  • planning for the use of ocean resources[102];
  • adoption of procedures and policies to facilitate the siting of energy, government, and aquaculture facilities[103],[104];
  • adoption of procedures and policies to facilitate energy-related and government activities with greater than local significance[105].

NOAA regulates criteria for funding proposals and administrative/procedural rules[106].  If a state does not comply with the terms of the grant, that state's eligibility for funding may be suspended for at least one year[107].

Additionally, NOAA offers technical and research assitance to the states to support the implementation of coastal zone enhancement programs[108].  Other federal departments and agencies may aid NOAA in these efforts and are entitled to compensation for providing such assistance[109].

Effects on Other Federal and State Agency Activities

The Act bars the Minerals Management Service from approving any permit applications for development of or production from the Outer Continental Shelf if such activities affect land use, water use, or natural resources in a coastal zone, unless the state responsible for that coastal zone has concurred to the application's certification[110].

Similarly, federal agencies are constrained from conducting activities affecting the coastal zone unless the relevant state coastal zone management agency concurs to such activities.  If the state agency objects to the certification of the activities or fails to act, then NOAA, either on its own intitiatve or following an appeal by the federal agency, may approve the activities[111].


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Yanefski, J. (2010). Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), United States. Retrieved from


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