Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wetland and Stream Protection and DEQ

How can I protect a wetland in my neighborhood?
Is it legal to build on a wetland? Are all wetlands protected?
How can I identify wetlands on a property? What is a wetland?
Can I clear vegetation in or near a wetland on my property?
How does the Office of Wetlands and Stream Protection protect surface waters?
What is no-net-loss of wetlands and how is it achieved in Virginia?


How can I protect a wetland or stream in my neighborhood?  
Talk to your homeowners association or local government to investigate wetlands eligible for easement in your area.  Maintain or plant a forested buffer around streams and wetlands.  Protect your neighborhood wetland by placing it under conservation easement or protective covenant.  Protect your rural wetland with a conservation easement. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Office of Land Conservation is an excellent resource for exploring avenues to protect land in Virginia.


Is it legal to build on a wetland? Aren’t all wetlands protected?
A wetland may be under threat of development even though it is protected by law. The Virginia Water Protection Program strives to reduce wetland impacts, adequately compensate for wetland loss and preserve particularly precious natural resources. Wetlands under conservation easement, restrictive covenant, or those considered a Natural Heritage Resource are afforded special protection. Wetlands on privately owned lands without conservation protection in place are not always protected from potential development. In many circumstances a developer can demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives to impacting a wetland. DEQ works with developers to minimize impacts, but ultimately some wetland impacts are allowed with a permit. It is important to provide a route for wetland impacts on some land, because the Commonwealth of Virginia must recognize the rights of private landowners.

Before You Buy, Before You Build 
Landowner and Realtor Resources

How can I identify wetlands on a property? What is a wetland? 
Wetlands are transitional areas where land and water meet. Land does not have to be wet all of the time in order to be defined as a wetland.   In some cases, it will not be immediately obvious that a wetland exists. The presence of water in an area over an extended period of time can, however, cause a number of physical, chemical and biological characteristics unique to wetlands to develop. Swamps, tidal marshes, wet meadows, bogs, pocosins and sinkhole wetlands are some of the many types of wetlands found in Virginia.  Because wetlands are identified according to the site-specific development of physical and biological conditions, an on-site inspection is always necessary to determine, with certainty, whether wetlands are present. Other information, such as National Wetland Inventory Maps developed by the USFWS, County Soil Surveys, and aerial photos provide indications of where wetlands may exist. However, these may not include all wetlands and may identify areas that once were, but no longer are, wetlands. As a result, the actual conditions at a property will always take precedence over any information source.

Wetland Identification 

“Wetland”: means those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. An area is considered a wetland in Virginia if it exhibits wetland hydrology, hydric soils and a prevalence of wetland vegetation

Can I clear vegetation in or near a wetland on my residential property?
Generally, if you are hand clearing vegetation you do not need a permit from DEQ, but check with your local DEQ Regional Office and your local government before clearing vegetation. You may need permission from your homeowners association, local government or local wetlands board to clear vegetation in a wetland. Keep in mind that wetlands are valuable habitat for native plants and wildlife so it is important to try to minimize the amount vegetation removed. Normal residential gardening, lawn and landscape maintenance in or near a wetland generally does not require a Virginia Water Protection (VWP) permit from DEQ. This exemption only applies to normal residential gardening, lawn and landscape maintenance, or other similar activities that are incidental to an occupant's ongoing residential use of property and of minimal ecological impact (including mowing, planting, fertilizing, mulching, tilling, vegetation removal by hand or by unmechanized hand tools, placement of decorative stone, fencing and play equipment).

How does the Office of Wetlands and Stream Protection (OWSP) at DEQ protect surface waters?
We implement state-wide policy for wetlands and streams and have jurisdiction over all surface waters (including wetlands) in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through the VWP permit program, OWSP regulates water withdrawal, excavation, filling, or activities that affect the biological, chemical or physical properties of surface waters (including streams, lakes and wetlands). We ensure compliance with state law, regulations, and permit requirements through regular inspections, compliance assistance and enforcement.

What is no net loss of wetlands and how is it achieved in Virginia?
One goal of DEQ's OWSP program is to achieve no-net-loss of wetland acreage and function by requiring compensation for all permitted wetland impacts. In other words, wetlands that are lost or destroyed by development activities, such as building, must be replaced so that the overall amount of wetland acreage does not decline. We also work to maintain the functions of wetlands; their benefit to people, wildlife, and water quality. For example, if 2 acres of wetland must be destroyed, the party causing the impact to the wetland may be required to create, restore or enhance at least 2 or more acres of wetland nearby. This way, the water storage, water purification, and wildlife habitat benefits of the wetland are not lost.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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