Learn About Wetlands Legal Protections

Become Knowledgeable

Virginia’s wetlands regulatory programs are focused on tidal and non-tidal wetland protection. Tidal wetlands regulation in Virginia has been delegated to localities who have adopted Tidal Wetlands Ordinances. Localities also work in concert with state and federal regulators through a joint permit application process.

You can btain a copy of your locality’s Tidal Wetlands Ordinance from your local Wetlands Board. The federal authority for tidal wetlands legal protections in Virginia is the US Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District and their website has more regulatory information.

Laws and Regulations of State Agencies

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)

Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC)

Laws and Regulations of Federal Agencies

Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Virginia's Wetlands Guidelines

Subaqueous Guidelines

Shoreline Development BMP's

VIMS background on Living Shorelines

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act

Keep An Eye Out For Wetlands Disturbing Activities

Call Your Local Wetlands Board:

If you see or hear of wetlands being destroyed or threatened by excavation, dredging or filling; construction, drainage or ditching; or accumulation of trash or debris. Click here for a list of Local Wetlands Board contacts.

If You Are Concerned About Any Wetlands Disturbing Activity, Contact These Offices:

Regional DEQ Offices

VMRC Habitat Management Division

Corps of Engineers Norfolk District

Decide whether or not to act further based on the apparent nature and extent of the wetlands impact. If there is no permit application on file, and wetlands have already been destroyed or damaged, an environmental crime has likely occurred. Report it to your city or county attorney’s office.

Evaluate and Critique the Permit Application

Review and evaluate the permit application, if there is one. For activities that would directly disturb either tidal or non-tidal wetlands or shallow water habitat, the permit application is submitted on a form called the “Joint Permit Application” (JPA) to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).  The JPA is used to process the application by the local, state and federal regulatory agencies.For most tidal wetlands-disturbing activities a permit from some or all of the following agencies is required: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the local Wetlands Board.

Tidal wetlands JPA’s are available for review on-line at the VIMS website  

VIMS-CCRM has also developed a series of shoreline management decision trees to evaluate the approach being taken in the permit application.  

For disturbance of non-tidal wetlands, contact the Corps of Engineers or the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regional office where the permit activity will take place.  DEQ is empowered under state law to grant permits for impacts to non-tidal wetlands.

Determine if the Application is Complete and Accurate

You are entitled by law to inspect applications and supporting documents such as maps, drawings and related correspondence. The regulatory agency staff should be willing to meet with you and answer your questions about the application and about the nature and extent of the proposed wetlands impacts. Use the Freedom of Information Act if to obtain documents if the staff will not make copies for you.

Ask the local Wetlands Board staff if they think the project is consistent with: 

1.  The local Wetlands Ordinance    

2. Virginia’s Wetlands Guidelines, Subaqueous Guidelines or Shoreline Development BMP’s (best management practices), as applicable     

3. The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, if applicable   

4. The federal and state policy of “no net loss” of wetlands acreage and functions

Evaluate the project for its cumulative impact on wetlands acreage and functions and for its success in avoiding, minimizing and compensating for wetlands impacts.

Seek help with this from environmental organizations like Wetlands Watch, Sierra Club, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Audubon Society as well as from state and federal resource agencies.

Determine whether the proposed wetlands losses are justified by any economic benefits.

Stand Up and Be Counted

Attend Wetlands Board hearings and speak to protest unnecessary wetlands impacts from development projects. Use facts, not feelings, to support your position. If you give your opinion, support it with facts or expert authority. Provide a written version of your presentation to the board for the record, ahead of time if possible.

Send written comments to the Corps of Engineers (in Virginia, usually the Norfolk District), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission in response to their public notices on projects you are interested in. Remember, most wetlands disturbing activities require permits from all these agencies.

Appeal the decision of the local Wetlands Board if you believe that it has committed an error in granting a permit. Appeals are made to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). The appeal petition must be submitted within 10 days of the decision and requires the signatures of 25 owners of property in the locality of the permitted project. VMRC can modify the decision, send it back to the Wetlands Board for further consideration or reverse it. Appeals have a chance of success if it can be shown that the board acted without any rational basis, the decision was not supported by the evidence, or the permit violates the wetlands protection goals of the Wetlands Protection Act.

Follow up with the board during and after the project, if the permit is issued, to determine if the general and special conditions of the permit have been met.

Keep a record of your interventions by locality, the extent of wetlands impacts, and wetlands acreage and functions preserved.