Wetlands are critical biological resources that provide important wildlife habitat and play a key role in flood prevention, surface water management, groundwater recharge and water quality. Wetlands include land areas usually saturated with water and have vegetation which is specific to wetland soils. These areas include all streams and other bodies of water and frequently include areas adjacent to bodies of water. Both the federal and state governments have wetland protection laws in place. Municipalities can also directly protect and more effectively regulate disturbances of wetlands.
In addition to federal and state regulation, local municipalities can take additional steps to protect wetlands from the impacts of development and from unnecessary disturbance. Wetland protection regulations are applicable to all landscapes and any municipality with wetland areas should consider developing wetland management standards. Land management and zoning tools such as "netting out" wetlands from lot area and density calculations, regulating the disturbance of wetlands and protecting wetland margins can be incorporated into local zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances.
Wetland Protection ordinances offer the following benefits:
- Conserves energy by reducing pollutant loads, water degradation and flood damage that would otherwise require costly remediation;
- Improves surface water management including reduction of flood magnitudes, erosion and sedimentation;
- Increases groundwater recharge;
- Promotes biofiltration (removal of pollutants and sediment) of ground and surface water;
- Preserves important wildlife and aquatic habitats; and
- Increased protection of wetlands through local management, beyond that offered by federal and state legislation, regulations and enforcement through the use of setback provisions (wetland buffers), innovative stormwater design and regular local monitoring.
The following limitations may be associated with Wetland Protection ordinances:
- Potential ambiguity regarding terms such as "wetland margin" unless it is carefully defined by the municipality; and
- Possibility of administrative complexity when municipalities require wetland mitigation.
How to Use this Tool
The protection of the natural environment, including wetlands, should serve as the primary basis for other land use policies and can result in the conservation of critical resources for future generations. Preserving, improving and managing water quantity are key components of protecting the natural environment.
Protection of wetlands through methods such as regulatory controls, open space and greenway preservation and management, and stormwater best management practices can conserve resources, protect natural functions, and improve quality of life. Locating a full range of natural resource protection standards in one section of a municipal ordinance allows for the most effective protection of those resources at the local level. Ordinances should require that the specific natural features first be identified on a proposed plan and then apply limitations on their disturbance. A comprehensive list of protected resources should include, at a minimum: wetlands, woodlands, steep slopes, riparian buffers, and floodplains.
Municipalities that are developing or updating their wetland protection standards should consider the following:
- Wetland protection standards should generally form an integrated natural resources protection strategy or more specifically a water resources protection strategy. These strategies should be supported by policies established in the municipality's comprehensive plan and be consistent with the intent and provisions of all federal and state programs, rules and regulations pertaining to wetlands.
- Wetland protection and replacement language should be incorporated into both the zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances. Ideally wetlands within a municipality should be inventoried and mapped as an individual map and/or coverage in the municipal Geographic Information System (GIS) to provide a general idea of the location of wetlands.
- Site specific identification of wetlands needs be conducted as part of the land development process, such as being added to the preliminary and final plan requirements of the subdivision and land development ordinance.
The majority of Chester County municipalities have incorporated some level of wetland protection into their ordinances. Chester County municipalities also manage and regulate floodplain areas.
- East Bradford Township natural features protection standards
- A summary of the Federal Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972)
- The Pennsylvania State Water Plan Act 220