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The MA Wetlands Protection Act and Regulations and local Wetlands Bylaw include a number of different types of wetlands, and wetland-related areas called “Resource Areas”. These include rivers and streams (“perennial” if they run year round, and “intermittent” if they dry up seasonally); lakes and ponds; the vegetated wet areas bordering rivers, streams, lakes or ponds (“bordering vegetated wetlands”); the 100-year floodplain along rivers and streams; and isolated areas that flood seasonally, such as vernal pools. The first 200 feet from the edge of a perennial stream are regulated as “riverfront area”. The first 100 feet from a vegetated wetland or stream bank are regulated as “buffer zone”.
Most people can recognize a marsh with cattails and standing water as a wetland, but many wetlands are harder for the average person to recognize. By law, the edge of vegetated wetlands is determined by looking at the species of plants that grow there, the soils, and evidence of hydrology. Certain plant species are adapted to grow in wet areas. Soils show if the area has water near the surface at least part of the year. Evidence of hydrology includes ponding, sphagnum moss, flood water lines and debris, and physical adaptations made by plants to wet growing conditions.
Why are wetlands and other water resource areas important?
More than half of our country’s original wetland acreage has been lost to agricultural, commercial, and residential development. The cost of this loss in degraded water quality, increased storm damage, and depleted fish, wildlife, and plant populations has been well documented.
In their natural state, wetlands provide many free services to the community. Low areas serve as flood ways to convey storm and other flood waters safely away, and act as buffers to prevent damage to nearby roads and buildings. Naturally forested riverfront areas slow flood waters and trap sediment and debris. These functions minimize the need for extensive (and often expensive) engineered flood management systems and seawalls. Wetlands also provide temporary storage of floodwaters, allowing floods to recede slowly and, in fresh water wetlands, to recharge groundwater.
Directly or indirectly, wetlands are often sources of public or private drinking water supply. In addition, wetlands and vegetated riverfront lands help to purify the waters they receive from roads, agricultural runoff, and other sources. They serve as natural settling areas where soils and vegetation trap sediments that bind and, in some cases, break down pollutants into nontoxic compounds. For example, the sediments under marsh vegetation absorb lead, copper, and iron. Wetlands and riverfront lands retain nitrogen and phosphorus compounds which otherwise would foster nuisance plant growth and degrade fresh and coastal waters.
Wetlands are valuable to wildlife, providing food, breeding areas, and protective cover. Naturally vegetated riverfront lands also provide essential travel corridors for many species. Shellfish beds and commercial and recreational fisheries are dependent on good water quality and healthy coastal and inland wetlands.
Floodplains are protected because they provide “storage” for floodwaters. Alteration of the land that reduces flood storage capacity may displace floodwaters and cause greater flooding elsewhere. Unfortunately there are too many examples of houses flooded and even lives lost through the cumulative effect of many people filling in a floodplain over the years. Floodplains are also valuable for wildlife habitat.
Banks serve as buffers for landowners against storm damage. Vegetated banks bind the soil, preventing erosion caused by water flow.
Beaches, dunes, and riverbanks are dynamic systems that are continually shifting. In addition to preventing storm damage, coastal banks and dunes can naturally replenish beaches. Left in an undisturbed state, banks and dunes provide the same replenishment as truckloads of sand, but at much less cost. Construction near banks and dunes must be planned carefully to allow this natural shifting to occur.
(This information provided by MACC, for more information follo wthis link: https://www.maccweb.org/page/ResWPAFAQS)
Posted: Mon, Oct 19, 2015 12:36 PM
Updated Wed, Dec 18, 2019 12:00 AM