Homebuyers, developers, and DIYers often get nervous when they hear the word “wetland.” But this term doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t build. Landscape contractor Jenn Nawada helps us uncover more about wetland designations and what it takes to develop these properties.
Who Can Identify a Wetland?
It takes more than looking at plants to truly identify a wetland. Only soil scientists with professional training can truly determine if a wetland exists, and these are the folks that landowners hire to help them determine their designation.
Why Wetlands are Important?
Wetlands provide a habitat for wildlife, many of which are threatened or endangered. They also can act as flood control to keep flood waters from affecting residences. Wetlands can also act as natural filtration systems to filter out impurities from entering the groundwater.
How are Wetlands Identified?
Wetland definitions vary from state to state. However, in Massachusetts, a wetland is any area that consists of 50% or more plant species that are listed as wetland indicators, as well as having wetland soils and certain root conditions. Depending on the area, they may contain ferns, poison ivy, and wild blueberries, as well as intermittent streams among other indicators.
Another indicator is the condition of the soil. A soil scientist will use a special auger designed to cut down into the soil and remove a sample. The scientist is looking for signs of hydric soil, which is soil that experiences enough saturation, flooding, or ponding to become anaerobic.
How To Get Building Approval on Wetland Properties
Every area varies, but the following are the general steps for getting building approval on a wetland property:
- The soil scientist clearly marks the boundaries of the wetland with flags
- A surveyor then takes measurements and maps out the wetland on a site plan
- An engineer then works on a proposed project plan
- The plan goes before the conservation commission for review, approval, or denial
If the site plan requires disturbing wetlands, all is not lost. In many areas, landowners may disturb wetlands provided they plant another wetland area equal or greater in size to the area they disturbed. The wetland expert will choose a suitable location, which must then be filled with all the indicator species natural to the region.
Jenn demystifies wetlands for a homeowner by connecting him with a local expert who explains
how wetlands are identified and why they are protected. A soil scientist is the only person with
the professional training who can truly determine if a wetland exists and accurately map its
Jenn works with a wetlands specialist to explain what wetlands are and how to work in them without upsetting the ecosystem.
A soil test is done by using a hand auger to drill down into the soil. The auger drills down 1-3’ depending on how deep hydric soils are and extracts a sample of soil that can be examined.
Permission must be granted from a local conservation commission to do work on property within a certain radius of any wetland.
Expert assistance was provided by Goddard Consulting, LLC