Guidance For Your Backyard Wetland

Because wetlands are essential to water quality and protecting wildlife – both fish and fowl – many government agencies are involved in keeping wetlands from being harmed. If you are planning a yard project near backyard tidal wetlands or if you would like to improve your wetlands, check first with the government agencies that protect wetlands to see if a permit is needed.There are three main regulatory agencies involved with tidal wetlands protection and each has a different role. However, they work together jointly if a regulatory permit is needed because of wetlands disturbance.  In addition, there are wetlands boards in each city or county that review any wetlands disturbing activity.  

Not only do we need to be concerned with protecting wetlands, we also need to prevent any land disturbance within the 100 foot shoreline buffers. 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.

Here is a listing of regulatory and other federal and state agencies, wetlands boards, and non-profit groups along with contact information and links to their websites.  Please use this reference when you need guidance for protecting your backyard wetland. 

Regulatory Agencies

US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (Norfolk District Office)

USACE is responsible for protecting tidal wetlands, mudflats, river bottoms, coastal shorelines, and non-tidal wetlands near tidal waters.  Nearly all regulatory decisions on wetlands in Virginia are made out of the Norfolk District Office (although the USACE has field staff throughout the state).
Regulatory Branch and Permits
US Army Corps of Engineers: Norfolk District
803 Front Street
Norfolk, Va 23510-1096
(757) 201-7500

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)

DEQ regulates the water quality impacts of wetlands disturbance for all wetlands, tidal and non-tidal. To review the DEQ regulatory programs, click here.
DEQ has regional offices that divide up coverage of the state. To find the DEQ office nearest your home or the wetlands you have questions about, go to the website for DEQ Regional Office

Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC)

VMRC is mainly concerned with the habitat impacts of disturbing tidal wetlands and mudflats.  The VMRC authority on tidal wetlands is passed down to most localities in the tidal areas of Virginia.  Local Government wetlands boards administer the tidal wetlands permitting in those localities.

VMRC Permits
Virginia Marine Resources Commission
2600 Washington Avenue
Newport News, VA 23607-0756

Wetlands Boards

Most localities in the tidal region of Virginia (east of Interstate 95) have a wetlands board, comprised of citizen members, to review any wetlands-disturbing activity. The wetlands board staff in each city or county can help determine if you need a permit.

A current list of wetlands board contacts is maintained by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.  The contacts on this website are the best sources of information on any proposed changes you may want to make to your property. 

Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act

Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance

In addition to wetlands, the area of your property that is 100 feet landward of the edge closest to shore of any tidal wetland, is 100 feet landward of mean high tide, is 100 feet from a nontidal wetland connected to a tidal wetland by surface flow, or is 100 feet from the bank of a stream or other perennial water body is critical to the water quality and habitat of the water. It is also protected under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and any land disturbance within this 100 foot zone (shoreline buffer) may need regulatory approval. The state agency responsible for overseeing this law on shoreline buffers is the DCR Division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance

Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences

The VIMS Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM) advises the state regulatory agencies about wetlands and other shoreline management issues.  It is the best source of information on wetlands, coastal habitat, and a wide range of natural resource management topics. 

Conservation & Restoration

State and federal agencies provide information on the conservation and restoration of wetlands:

Virginia DEQ information: Landowner Resources and Voluntary Restoration

USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service: Backyard Wetland

Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences: Natural Shoreline Erosion control

Nonprofit Organizations

In addition, a range of non-profit organizations have information and resources on backyard wetlands.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Outdoor Landscaping Resources

Chesapeake Bay Program: Wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay

Center for Watershed Protection: Series of Articles on Wetlands Protection 

Save the Bay (Narragansett Bay, RI): Excellent guide for "Backyards on the Bay"

Lafayette Wetlands Partnership- Want to Adopt a Wetland?  These folks know how.