Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA)

MRCCA2The Mississippi River, a defining feature for many communities along its banks, is host to a habitat rich in biodiversity where native wildlife and vegetation flourish. Nestled along the Mississippi River, Cottage Grove’s prairie and woodlands have been home to many species including coyotes, deer, otters, muskrats, songbirds, eagles, and white-tailed deer for thousands of years. Today, the city’s southwest corner is within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area (MRCCA).

The MRCCA is a 72-mile stretch along the Mississippi River, running from Ramsey to Hastings covering 54,000 acres of land. The MRCCA contains a mix of residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational uses unique to the City of Cottage Grove. Local MRCCA zoning regulations are administered by the city as an overlay district to guide current and future development including vegetation management, removal, and land alternation. These rules seek to protect wildlife habitat, natural scenery, water quality, and allow development to address crucial contemporary needs. 

Minnesota Statute 116G.15 establishes Minnesota policy and authority for the MRCCA rules (6106.0010 – 6106.0180). The cultural, natural, and biodiverse landscapes within the MRCCA are protected through development standards administered through the City of Cottage Grove’s land use plans and zoning ordinances. To find out how your property is affected by the City of Cottage Grove's MRCMRCCACA ordinance, visit this interactive map. 

To find out if your property is within the MRCCA boundary, use this map. If your property falls within the MRCCA and you would like to preform work on your property, you may need to apply for an administrative review to gain a permit. See the FAQ section below to determine if desired property work requires a permit and for MRCCA application forms.

Changes to the MRCCA State Rules 

Principal and accessory structures must maintain the following setbacks to a bluff*:

  1. 100-foot setback (current ordinance requires a 40-foot setback).
  2. An average setback of the principal and accessory structures on adjoining lots (current ordinance does not allow averaging), as long as the structure is not in the bluff impact zone (20 feet to the bluff line).
  3. Accessory structures under 200 square feet and decks may encroach 15% into the required setback (current ordinance does not allow encroachments), as long as the structure is not in the bluff impact zone (20 feet to the bluff line).
  4. Septic tanks

*A bluff is natural topographic feature that has a slope rising at least 25 feet and a slope grade averaging 18% or greater measured over a horizontal distance of 25 feet.   

Vegetation Removal: A vegetation removal permit and restoration plan is required for the removal of all or a majority of the trees or shrubs in a contiguous patch, strip, row, or block (current ordinance does not require vegetation removal permits).   


  1. All legally established nonconforming structures may remain (same as current ordinance).
  2. All legally established nonconforming principal structures and decks may be expanded laterally (current ordinance does not allow lateral expansion), as long as the structure is not in the bluff impact zone (20 feet to the bluff line).   

MRCCA Permit Application Forms

Vegetation Clearing Permit Application
Land Alteration Permit Application

  1. Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my property is within a MRCCA district?

You can use the DNR’s district and boundary map to enter your address to find out if your property is within the MRCCA district. 

Does my project require a permit?

The following require an administrative review permit within an MRCCA boundary:

  1. Construction of buildings, structures, building additions, decks or alterations when building within the primary conservation areas.
  2. Construction or replacement of rock riprap, retaining walls, and other erosion control structures within the bluff impact zone and water quality impact zone.
  3. Land alterations that involve more than ten cubic yards of material or affects an area greater than 1,000 square feet within the water quality impact zone.
  4. Installation and/or alteration of sewage treatment systems within the MRCCA boundary.
  5. Vegetation removal and vegetation restoration within the primary conservation areas.
  6. Interim or temporary uses within the primary conservation areas.
  7. Ramps and private water access and viewing facilities within the primary conservation areas.
  8. Storm water management facilities in the bluff impact zone and water quality impact zone.
  9. Water-oriented accessory structures.

What do I need to submit when applying for a permit?

  1. A complete MRCCA application form
  2. A complete supplemental application (if your project involves intensive vegetation clearing or land alterations)
  3. The required fee
  4. A detailed project description
  5. An aerial photo and/or scaled site plan showing the location with setbacks and labels for the proposed project area

What is the Primary Conservation Area?

The Primary Conservation Area (PCA) outlines resources and features including shore impact zones, bluff impact zones, floodplains, wetlands, gorges, areas of confluence with tributaries, natural drainage routes, unstable soils and bedrock, native plant communities, cultural and historic properties, significant existing vegetative stands, tree canopies, and other resources identified in local government plans. It is possible for a property to have more than one PCA existing on site. Definitions can be viewed on the Revisor's Office website.

How do I know if my property is in the PCA?

You can use the DNR's primary area conservation mapping application to find out if your property is in the PCA. After opening the online mapper, enter your property address in the search box. The online mapper identify any applicable PCAs on your property. PCAs are identified in the map legend.  

What does it mean if one or more PCA’s exist on my property?

If one or more PCAs exist on your property, you will need to ensure that any future construction, landscaping, or land alteration activities comply with the PCA protective standards and permit requirements in your local MRCCA zoning regulations. See the DNR’s webpage for an overview

What is an overlay district? 

An overlay district is a zoning district that is applied over one or more previously established zoning districts. Overlay districts establish additional or stricter standards and criteria for covered properties in addition to those of the underlying zoning district. Overlay districts are often used to protect historic features and natural resources such as shore land or floodplain. Definitions can be viewed on the Revisor's Office website. 

Can I maintain my lawn and landscaping without a permit?

Yes, maintenance of your existing lawn, landscaping, and gardens are allowed without a permit. Vegetation Management Standards for the MRCCA can be viewed on the Revisor's Office website.

What is the Ordinary High-Water Level OWHL?

An ordinary high-water level is the boundary of water basins, watercourses, public waters, and public waters wetlands. The ordinary high-water level is an elevation delineating the highest water level that has been maintained for a sufficient period of time to leave evidence upon the landscape, commonly the point where the natural vegetation changes from predominantly aquatic to predominantly terrestrial. For watercourses, the ordinary high-water level is the elevation of the top of the bank of the channel. For reservoirs and flowages, the ordinary high-water level is the operating elevation of the normal summer pool. Definitions can be viewed on the Revisor's Office websiteAlong the Mississippi River in Cottage Grove the Ordinary High-Water Level is 688 feet.

What if I want to perform work below the OWHL?

DNR approval is required for work at or below the OWHL for construction or replacement of any structure before the city can issue a permit.

What is a water-oriented accessory structure?

A water-oriented accessory structure is a small building or other improvement, except stairways, fences, docks, and retaining walls, that, because of the relationship of its use to public waters, needs to be located closer to public waters than the normal structure setback. Examples include gazebos, screen houses, fish houses, pump houses and detached decks and patios. Definitions can be viewed on the Revisor's Office website.

Who is the DNR contact for the City of Cottage Grove?

Daniel Scollan
Ramsey and Washington County
1200 Warner Road St Paul, MN 55106