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Wetlands

Issue Summary
U.S. EPA
Other Federal Agencies
States
Organizations/Non-Government Programs
Publications
Databases and Tools
Financial Assistance


Issue SummaryWetlands

A wetland is defined as an area of land covered all or part of the year with fresh or salt water, and is the collective term for marshes, swamps, bogs, and similar areas. The EPA estimates that more than one-third of the United States' threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives.

By conserving wetlands, local governments can improve the quality of drinking water resources, reduce damage from flooding and erosion, and provide for popular outdoor recreational activities. Wetlands improve drinking water quality by intercepting surface water runoff and removing nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediment before it reaches open water. Water which leaves wetlands is thus substantially cleaner than water which enters. Due to their unique vegetation and topography, wetlands tend to act as giant sponges, absorbing, storing, and slowly releasing water from runoff and other sources. As a result, wetlands can lessen the severity of floods and accompanying property damage from erosion. In addition, wetlands provide opportunities for popular activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting, and boating.

The EPA's major role in wetland protection is funding state and federal agency involvement in wetland research and protection especially in biological assessment and monitoring techniques. The EPA also develops rules to regulate municipal and industrial wastewater discharge, stormwater discharge, and oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulating activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers has permitting authority over the discharge of dredged and fill materials into "water of the US," including wetlands. EPA develops and interprets environmental criteria used in evaluating permit applications and has veto power over a permit granted by the Corps. Most of EPA responsibilities are carried out by regional offices as opposed to the national headquarters.

States play a critical role in the protection and management of our Nation's wetlands. Most states have increased their roles in wetlands protection and management by adopting any of a number of wetlands programs or tools. Components of comprehensive wetlands programs which various states have adopted include:

  • assuming the federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit program or obtaining State Program General Permits from the Corps of Engineers
  • undertaking comprehensive State Wetland Conservation Plans which identify strengths and needs in a state's program, and often develop the framework for a state's wetlands program
  • developing narrative wetland water quality standards,
  • applying the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification program,
  • adopting non-regulatory programs such as watershed/wetlands planning initiatives, taxation programs, acquisition programs, and others, and
  • incorporating wetlands considerations into other state water programs.

The resources below provide information on various technical and financial assistance available to local governments, as well as information on current wetland regulatory and legislative initiatives, conferences, web sites, and publications which can assist local governments in benefiting from wetland conservation.

U.S. EPAWetlands

EPA Wetlands Program. The EPA's major role in wetland protection is funding state and federal agency involvement in wetland research and protection especially in biological assessment and monitoring techniques. The EPA also develops rules to regulate municipal and industrial wastewater discharge, stormwater discharge, and oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulating activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Pond/Wetland Management Guidebook
EPA just released a new guidebook that describes maintenance and inspection practices for existing wet ponds and wetlands. The guide includes checklists for use during construction and routine maintenance of ponds/wetlands, and also includes a home owner pond inspection checklist. Maintenance profile sheets describe how to address eight different common maintenance issues.

Other Federal Agencies/Programs

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers The mission of the Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program is to protect the Nation's aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions. The Corps evaluates permit applications for essentially all construction activities that occur in the Nation's waters, including wetlands.

States

State Wetlands Information Tool (SWIFT).Most states have enacted laws and regulations to protect wetlands. In many cases, these rules are established to define the state's role in the §404 permit/§401 certification process. However, some state laws have other impacts. For example, states may adopt a definition of wetlands or regulated activities that are different than the federal definitions. This could for example, qualify an area as a wetland that does not meet the federal definition. Use the SWIFT to find out more about your state's rules.

Organizations/Non-Government Programs

Association of State Wetland Managers. The Association of State Wetland Managers Web site provides information on wetlands news and events, including new regulations/legislation, upcoming conferences and events, publications, and more.

Society of Wetland Scientists. The Society of Wetland Scientists Web site provides access to on-line scientific wetlands journals and a wetlands discussion forum, as well as information on upcoming wetlands conferences and events.

Publications

Principles for Constructed Treatment Wetlands: Providing for Water Quality and Wildlife Habitat. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has produced a publication entitled Guiding Principles for Constructed Treatment Wetlands: Providing for Water Quality and Wildlife Habitat. The publication provides local officials with guidelines for many issues surrounding constructed treatment wetlands.

Protecting Natural Wetlands: A Guide to Stormwater Best Management Practices. This manual, produced by the U.S. EPA, is intended for use by anyone addressing potential impacts to wetlands from stormwater runoff, and it presents a wide range of planning approaches as well as specific BMPs that can be employed in a variety of situations.

The Economic Value of Wetlands. This report explores the role of western Washington State wetlands in flood protection and suggests that economic valuation of wetlands' flood protection services can provide a strong rationale for communities to protect their remaining wetlands.

Wetlands Fact Sheets. Produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, this series of wetlands fact sheets covers a wide variety of topics, such as economic benefits, wetlands mitigation banking, the local role in wetlands protection, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and more.

Databases and Tools

Wetlands Education Links. Links to numerous non-EPA wetlands resources.

Financial Assistance

State/Tribal/Local Wetlands Grant Program. Since 1990, this Federal grants program has supported State, Tribal, and local efforts to protect wetlands by providing funds to enhance existing programs or develop new programs.