What is a Wetland? What is a Floodplain?

Essentially, the Wetlands Protection Act covers any wet area where the groundwater level is at or near the surface of the ground for a long enough period during the year to support a community of wetland-type vegetation. Wet areas include any salt or fresh-water marsh, meadow, swamp, or bog. These are the classic wetlands described in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations as "Bordering Vegetated Wetlands." To be protected under this Act, these wet areas must border any one of a list of water bodies: lakes, creeks, streams, rivers, ponds, estuaries, or the ocean. Resource Areas are also protected by a surrounding 100-foot Buffer Zone. The Act also covers work in floodplains. A floodplain is an area that experiences surface flooding during storms. Two types of floodplain areas are protected under the state Act. The more common areas are those bordering streams that flood during the 100-year storm, which is the worst storm that can be expected to occur, on average, once every 100 years. The less common areas are isolated depressions that flood at least once a year to an average depth of 6" and to a volume of one-quarter acre-foot (10,890 cubic feet). Floodplains are protected because they provide "storage" for flood waters during storms. Any alteration of the land that reduces the storage capacity will 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.

Appears in: Planning & Development FAQs

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