What is a Wetland?
Wetland is the transition area between aquatic and terrestrial habitats. A primary low, marshy area, a wetland is saturated or even submerged all or part of the year, with soils that support unique plant and animal life. According to the 2002 Virginia Outdoors Plan, "wetlands, both tidal and non-tidal, are among the most important natural resources found in Virginia's Landscape.
"Photo courtesy of Lynnhaven River NOW"
Why are wetlands important?
The wetlands work as natural measure to help slow down the rising water from storms that may cause flooding. This is accomplished by acting as a giant sponge, absorbing and holding water during storms. Fast moving water is slowed by vegetation and temporarily stored in wetlands. The gradual release of water reduces erosion potential and possible property damage. When wetlands are filled in or drained, the areas designed by nature to control floodwaters from damaging storms, extreme high tides, and so on are lost.
Coastal wetlands absorb the erosive energy of waves, thus reducing further erosion. The vegetation provides a buffer to the shoreline from the wave action while the root systems provide support to help hold the soil together. Once plant material is removed or destroyed, the erosion potential increases dramatically.
Wetlands also filter pollutants, much like a kidney detoxifies potentially harmful fluids in your body. Pollutants carried by stormwater can be trapped by wetland vegetation. These excess nutrient are used by plants to promote growth.
Fish and Wildlife Habitat
Wetlands are resting, nesting, breeding, and spawning areas for many species of fish, shellfish, as well as other wildlife. More than one half of all threatened and endangered species depend on wetlands at one point of their life cycle.
Based on the many benefits to both property and water quality, disturbance and displacement of wetlands should be avoided during construction. Also, permission to fill, alter, or build in or around wetlands is usually required. The City's Wetlands Board has jurisdiction for non-vegetated wetlands that lie between mean low water and mean high water, and for vegetated wetlands, from mean low water to an elevation one and one-half times the mean tide range.