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What is a Wetland?
Wetlands are the area where land meets water.  Although wetlands are often wet, a wetland might not be wet year-round. In fact, some of the most important wetlands are only seasonally wet. Wetlands are the link between the land and the water. They are transition zones where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce a unique ecosystem characterized by hydrology, soils, and vegetation—making these areas very important features of a watershed.
how wetlands work - Copy
Why are Wetlands Important?
Wetlands are some of the most biologically productive natural ecosystems in the world. Often called “nurseries of life,” wetlands provide habitat for thousands of aquatic species and terrestrial plants and animals. Migrating birds utilize wetlands to rest and feed during migration journeys and as nesting sites.  As a result, wetland loss has a serious impact on these species. Habitat destruction since the 1970s has been a leading cause of species extinction.  Wetlands do more than provide habitat for plants and animals in the watershed. When streams and rivers overflow, wetlands help to absorb and slow floodwaters. This ability to control floods can alleviate property damage and loss and can even save lives.  Wetlands also absorb excess nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants before they reach rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. They are great spots for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bird-watching, and they make wonderful outdoor classrooms for people of all ages. 
benefits of wetlands - Copy
Tidal vs Non-Tidal Wetlands
Tidal Wetlands
Tidal wetlands are flat, vegetated areas that are subject to regular flooding by the tides. Tidal wetlands  occur in coastal areas but inland from the ocean. These are often referred to as estuaries and are affected by tides.
Non-Tidal Wetlands  
Non-tidal wetlands occur inland and are not subject to tidal influences. 
isolated wetlands
flat wetland depression wetland swamp wetlands riverine wetland
This wetland is considered non-tidal and most common Depressions are non-tidal, isolated, shallow pools of water in low lying area. Swamps are  non-tidal wetlands that are dominated by wood trees and shrubs. With saturated soils or standing water during certain times of the year. Floodplain or riverine wetlands are common around non-tidal streams.
Additionally, wetlands can be vegetated or non-vegetated. Under Chapter 13 of Title 28.2 of the State Code, vegetative wetlands are those which are between Mean Low Water (MLW) and an elevation above MLW equal to 1.5 times the mean tide range, generally to the beginning of the upland buffer, and have any of the listed wetland plant species outlined in the Virginia Wetlands Act. Non-vegetated wetlands are between MLW and Mean High Water (MHW) but without vegetation, such as mudflats or sand beaches.
Does my property Contain Wetlands?
National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) Maps can be used to research the approximate location of wetlands. This along with using other mapping resources including topographic maps, wetland maps, soil maps, and hydrology maps can help identify potential wetlands on you property.
Note: The only way to know for certain if a parcel contains regulated wetlands/waters is to obtain a wetland delineation preformed by a professional and receive confirmation/jurisdiction determination from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Typically, a landowner will hire a consultant to perform the delineation and obtain a delineation confirmation/jurisdiction determination from the US Army Corps of Engineers. While helpful, maps alone are insufficient to conclusively determine the presence or absence of wetlands.
Before Construction
Before any construction in wetlands  and/or on the shoreline or water’s edge begins, permits and approvals from the respective federal, state or local agencies will likely be required. The number and type of necessary permits and approvals will vary depending on the type, size and location of the project.  You may obtain permits in your own name, however, it is strongly recommended the contractor performing the work obtain the permit in their name.  Also, make certain the contractor you choose is properly licensed with the state and the county.
Permit Information
The Joint Permit Application (JPA) is a combined application for federal, state, and local agencies for activities within wetlands or waters in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Each agency is responsible for their particular statues, regulations and issuance of their specific permits, the JPA process is designed to streamline the application process for an applicant.
The primary agencies involved are:
There are multiple state and federal laws and regulations regarding wetlands management; agency guidance and local ordinances also play a role. Virginia is somewhat unique in managing tidal wetlands through a local-state cooperative program.  As you review Virginia's shorezone jurisdictions of legally defined shoreline resources, note that some resource boundaries and most resources have a least two responsible regulatory authorities.  Each applicable regulatory agency conducts an independent review and issues a permit for their jurisdiction.
Federal, State, and Local Agency Jurisdiction
Different federal, state, and local agencies have jurisdiction over different types of wetlands. The following list generally describes the jurisdictional divisions:
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over waters of the U.S. (surface waters that involve interstate commerce, their tributaries, and tidal and non-tidal wetlands adjacent and connected to these waters).
  • In Virginia, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has jurisdiction over state surface waters including all tidal and non-tidal wetlands, including those which the Corps does not, such as Isolated Wetlands. These state surface waters are also waters of the U.S. as described above. See DEQ's Tidewater Regional Office for more information.
  • In Virginia, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) has jurisdiction over state owned subaqueous bottom, that is, lands below the mean low water or ordinary high water line and tidal wetlands.
  • Local wetlands Board The Board's wetlands jurisdiction for non-vegetated wetlands (sand flat, mud flat, etc.) lies between mean low water and mean high water. Vegetated wetlands jurisdiction is from mean low water to an elevation one and one-half times the mean tide range. 
The graphic below summarizes the interplay between these different programs.
Other Concerns
Wetlands boards across the Tidewater region are tasked to preserve and prevent the despoliation, and destruction, of wetlands within their jurisdiction while accommodating necessary economic development in a manner consistent with wetlands preservation. Not only do we need to be concerned with protecting wetlands, we also need to  consider the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area which prevents any land disturbance within the  Resource Protection Area (RPA). An RPA  includes tidal wetlands, non-tidal wetlands connected to water bodies or tidal wetlands, tidal shores, and a 100-foot-wide vegetated buffer area located adjacent to, landward of, and on both sides of those resources. The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act is administered locally and ensures preservation of that area.  State and federal agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, are great resources for information regarding conservation and restoration of wetlands.
Where to Report Potential Violations?
Potential violations should be immediately reported to County staff by calling 757-357-9114 or emailing
Wetland violations can also be directly emailed to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) at
or to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at
Links and Resources 
USACE – Norfolk District Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) VA VIMS Laws & Jurisdictions 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Joint Permit Application (USACE) VIMS Living Shorelines
Chesapeake Bay Program Living on the Water VIMS – Shoreline Permit Application Records
Code of Virginia Title 28.2 - Ch. 13 Wetlands Living Shorelines AskHRgreen Wetlands and Streams Permitting
Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Living Shorelines DEQ Wetlands Watch
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) VA National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA)  
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) VA Marine Resource Commission (VMRC)  

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