All About Wetlands

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil or is present at or near the surface of the soil for varying periods or all times during the year. There are several legal and non-legal definitions for a wetland but they all acknowledge three main components needed for an area to be deemed a wetland: hydrology, hydric soils, and hydrophytic vegetation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) define wetlands for regulation purposes as ”Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.” There are a variety of common names for wetlands including swamps, marshes, lakes, mudflats, bogs, and fens.
Environmental Due Diligence Prior to Acquisition

Why Should We Care About Wetlands?

Wetlands have been discovered to provide an abundance of environmental, social, and economic benefits, also known as ecosystem services. These ecosystem services include wildlife and fisheries habitat, carbon sequestration, water quality improvement, shoreline protection from erosion, and natural floodwater buffer systems. These environmental services provided through wetlands contribute greatly to the economy, such as the fish and shellfish commercial industries. For example, according to the National Marine Fisheries Services, in 2012 Louisiana commercial fisherman garnered $331 million in total revenue.

Wetlands improve water quality by removing excess nutrients, such as nitrate (NO3–) from the water column through biogeochemical cycling. Excess nutrients in a water column can lead to poor water quality and cause areas of hypoxia, or areas of little to no oxygen. This can have detrimental impacts on organisms that depend on that wetland habitat. Wetlands also store carbon (C) as organic matter. This is especially important in helping moderate global climate conditions since climate change is hypothesized to be driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Wetlands also play an important role as floodwater buffers and protection. They act as natural sponges that store surface water, rain, flood waters, and snow melt.  Additionally, wetlands provide shoreline protection from erosion by acting as a physical “speed bumps” from wave action and storm surge. Roots, trees, and wetland vegetation slow the speed of storm surge and flood waters, thus reducing erosion.

Since wetlands are a critical part of the natural environment, impact to a wetland area is typically regulated by the Corps. See below for information on how to identify a wetland area.

How are Wetlands Identified for Regulation Purposes?

There are many different types of wetland areas across the United States, some are easy to recognize and others not so much. However, the Corps has provided the 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual and Regional Supplements to define wetlands. Wetland delineation professionals follow the Corp’s 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual and applicable regional supplement to collect sample points and data to identify and map any wetlands within the site. These delineations can then be submitted to the Corps for verification and to request a Jurisdictional Determination.

Check out our Wetland Delineation Article for 10 essentials to consider in your next project containing wetland resources.

I'm ready torequest a proposal