The Value of a Wetlands Delineation

Andrew Houck is using a cruise angle to help tally and identify tree density for a wetlands delineation.

Wetlands are naturally resilient. They serve as a barrier against river flooding, acting as a sponge between a waterway and the flood plain. Wetlands provide important benefits to our environment and community that often go unnoticed. These habitats produce a variety of plant and animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Wetlands also filter contaminated water, such as stormwater runoff, allowing a cleaner, safer source of potential drinking water and recreational water source for residents and tourists. Cleaner waters re-entering streams and rivers increases the number of local trout and game fish within the region, which allows fisherman to safely consume the fish they catch. Even more importantly, wetlands can recharge depleted groundwater levels, allowing local vegetation and farmland to thrive even during times of drought during the summer months. These areas provide an abundance of ground and surface water allowing plants to grow more easily in and around wetlands, taking up carbon dioxide from the air and from the soils in order to grow. These wetland plant communities act as “carbon sinks,” meaning large amounts of carbon are stored in the community as plant matter, instead of infiltrating the atmosphere. Therefore, wetland plant communities provide important air purifying qualities that potentially reduce the impact of gases on the greenhouse effect. The natural characteristics that represent a wetlands area ultimately benefit our water resources, recreation, health, and the environment.

The Clean Water Act provides protection to all water bodies of the United States. The U.S. adopted this act due to increasing concern about water pollution from several sources in 1972, including agricultural runoff, industrial dumping, and motorized boat activities in public waters. Nationally, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been tasked with restoring degraded ecosystems and has developed detailed technical guidance on determining a wetlands area. Under the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) manages all water resources, including wetlands. Locally, the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act specifies its jurisdiction to ”regulated waters of Pennsylvania” including “watercourses, streams, or bodies of water and their floodways wholly or partly within or forming part of the boundary of this Commonwealth.” This all-encompassing definition includes wetlands areas, though wetlands can be a less obvious body of water. Simply stated, a wetland is an area of land that exhibits wetland vegetation, hydrology, and soil conditions. The location typically is composed of hydrophytes (water-loving plants), has signs of water pooling or ponding, and has anaerobic (absence of oxygen) soils. For an area of land to be considered possessing wetland hydrology according to the National Academy of Sciences, typically there would be “saturation within one foot of the soil surface for two weeks or more during the growing season in most years.” Therefore it is entirely possible that a wetland has a dry soil surface throughout the majority of the year.  Wetlands can be difficult to distinguish, therefore, the DEP and Army Corps of Engineers work together in order to protect and preserve this vital resource.

Wetland delineations are very important for land developers and engineers to help eliminate any potential roadblocks that may delay or prevent a project from happening. Accurately locating the boundaries of a wetland within a plot of land can eliminate the destruction of wetland habitat. Wetlands are regulated by the DEP and have steep penalties or may cause project delays when companies ignore the regulations. Delineations eliminate this risk. Once the wetland boundaries are known, projects will need to be modified to ensure the wetland areas are not impacted. However, if a project is unable to be modified to avoid impact, there remains the possibility that a permit could be granted by the DEP that would allow the project to continue. If this is the case, the land developer would be required to create man-made wetlands (usually 2:1 ratio) and monitor them for at least five years to ensure proper development of appropriate soil conditions. If a project would not impact wetland areas but these areas exist on the property, a wetland delineation would allow the developer to maintain the appropriate distance from mapped wetland boundaries.

Element is proud to announce that wetland delineation services are available for our clients. Andrew Houck, one of our Environmental Scientists, has completed the Wetland Delineator Program through Rutgers University. In addition, Andrew has obtained the Wetland Profession In Training (WPIT) certification through the Society of Wetland Scientists Professional Certification Program (SWSPCP) and is a current member of the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS).

Andrew’s knowledge of wetland delineation will allow E2S to accurately determine whether wetlands boundaries exist on a property using the guidelines specified by the Army Corps of Engineers. Andrew can determine a wetland from an upland area using identifying local plant life, soil color and texture, as well as signs of hydrology. Element can determine what impacts, if any, a potential wetland can have on the purchase of a property or a proposed construction plan. Once a delineation is complete, E2S can assist you in communicating with the DEP and Army Corps of Engineers and ensure all required documentation is submitted.

We hope to expand on these services in the future to allow the most opportunities for our clients.

Contact Element to schedule a wetland delineation for your property.

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