​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is a Wetland?

alternate textWetland 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.


​Why are wetlands important?

​Flood Control

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. 

​Erosion Control

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.

Pollutant Filter

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.

​Development Impacting Wetlands

Prior to development occurs in wetlands or navigable waters, citizens are required to submit a Joint Permit Application (JPA).  A JPA determines if permits for development are required from the City of Virginia Beach Wetlands Board and other state and federal agencies.  All JPAs are submitted to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and processed further to local Wetlands Board staff.  Please click here to navigate to our Wetland Board webpage to find the necessary forms and documents to submit a JPA.

The Board's wetlands jurisdiction for non-vegetated wetlands (sand flat, mud flat, etc.) lies between mean low water and mean high water. Vegetated wetlands jurisdiction is from mean low water to an elevation one and one-half times the mean tide range. ​The mean tide range is approximately two feet for rivers and bay areas and three and one-half feet for ocean areas.  Upland of that elevation, the Board does not have jurisdiction. However, a waterfront construction permit from the Waterfront Operations Bureau may still be required. If you have questions, contact a Waterfront Inspector at 757-385-8246.

Jurisdictional Boundaries

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