Yes, streams which flow year-round or only for portions of the year are subject to regulation. Specifically, watercourses are defined as rivers, streams, brooks, waterways, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, bogs, and other bodies of water. A watercourse has to have “bed and banks,” evidence of alluvial deposits, and/or hydrophytic (water-loving) plants. Flow must also be present longer than a particular storm event; this requirement keeps stormwater discharge points free from regulation.
Watercourses can be man-made or naturally occurring, and they can be perennial or intermittent, even if the intermittent flow is short in duration. Vernal pools, which can be described as big, springtime puddles, often in woods, also qualify as watercourses. View the statutory definition.
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Patricia Sesto, Director
TBD, Senior Wetland Analyst
TBD, Wetland Compliance Officer
Jenn Urena, Asst. Wetland Compliance Officer
Doreen Carroll-Andrews, Applications Coordinator
TBD, Land Use Clerk
Susan Honyotski, Administrative Asst. II
Return to Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency page
For most people, the perception of a wetland is limited to swamps and marshes. In fact, surface-dry woodlands, meadows, and even lawns can be identified as wetlands. In Connecticut, wetlands are identified by the features of the first 18 to 24 inches of soil. A wetland is caused by groundwater coming to or near the ground surface or is caused by a restrictive layer of clay or ledge blocking water from percolating downward. Soils that are identified as poorly drained, very poorly drained, alluvial or floodplain are wetland soils.
View the statutory definition.
Be aware this describes inland wetlands, as opposed to tidal wetlands. Tidal wetlands are those wetlands that occur below elevation 5.5 feet and are tidally influenced. Tidal wetlands are regulated by the Planning and Zoning Commission as part of the Coastal Area Management program of the state. View more information on tidal wetland regulations.
Wetland boundaries are determined by a soil scientist on your property. The soil scientist hangs surveying tape or “flags” along the boundary of the wetland or watercourse. A surveyor then documents the location of the flags on a property survey. The agency maintains a list of soil scientists (PDF) for convenience. This list is not a recommendation and is not all-inclusive.
The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses (IWWA) has issued thousands of permits and if your property ever received a permit, a copy of the surveyed wetland boundary and watercourse is likely on file. Applications made prior to 2011 are available on a public portal found on the IWWA page, or, come to the office from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays and a staff member will help you look up your property records. Files for applications made since 2011 are available in the office of the agency, too. It is also prudent to research the properties next to yours as regulated areas (“buffers”) of a wetland or watercourse on an adjacent property may extend onto your land.
In 1972, the Connecticut General Statutes were revised to include the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act. This statute acknowledges the benefits wetlands and watercourses bring to society and the natural world, and requires local protection of these resources. Wetlands and watercourses form an interrelated system which serves human needs by detaining storm water, reducing potential flood damage, and cleansing surface water of sediments and pollutants before it enters the groundwater that supplies our wells and reservoirs. Wetlands help maintain the base flow of watercourses, provide a water supply for wildlife, and furnish breeding and nesting sites for various species, many of which breed or nest only in wetlands.
The state requires municipal regulation of activities affection wetlands and watercourses. The Greenwich IWWA enacted regulations (PDF) pursuant to the state mandate and updates the regulations from time to time.
The IWWA has seven regular members and three alternates. The members are residents of town and volunteers. Currently, the disciplines of architecture, engineering, law, and natural resources management are represented on the IWWA and members have access to CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection training modules for additional education. The professional staff provides technical guidance and offers constructive problem-solving.
Protecting your wetland and/or watercourse is the first best approach to tending to it responsibly. Keep the use of fertilizers and pesticides to a minimum on the land that drains towards them. Pick up pet waste and discourage geese; both of these are sources of bacteria and nitrogen. Creating or maintaining a good buffer of meadow grasses, shrubs, and the like between your lawn and the resource will help filter out pollutants.
If you wish to manage the vegetation, cutting non-native invasive vines, such as bittersweet, is good for the trees. Selectively removing other non-native invasive plants and replacing or supplementing the wetland and buffer with native plants is also good stewardship. Be certain to check in with the staff before vegetation is removed to be sure you don’t need a permit first. There is an abundance of information online and IWWA staff are also here to help you devise a good management plan.
Yes! Technical staff members are available in the office in Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays; no appointment is necessary. Please come by and we can talk about your prospective project, look up files to see what information already exists, and help identify challenges and opportunities. The agency staff want to be a resource for you to help navigate the wetland and watercourse regulations.
Absolutely! There are several technical members in the department who can help identify whether or not you have wetlands and/or watercourses and talk about various management strategies, or contemplated projects. You are also welcome to stop by the office any weekday from 8 a.m .to 1 p.m. and a staff member will gladly explain our in-house resources and answer questions.
In order for new home buyers to more fully understand the key components of their property, a declaration is filed on the land records whenever an IWWA permit is implemented. By indicating the presence of wetlands and watercourses and the existence of previously issued permits, the agency hopes buyers will form reasonable expectations about the potential uses of the property and avoid violations due to a lack of information. In and of itself, the Declaration does not impose any restrictions.
A Regulated Activity is any operation within or use of a wetland or watercourse which alters, pollutes, or otherwise impacts the resource. This includes:
As the science of wetland and watercourse protection evolved, so did the knowledge that activities adjacent to these resources could negatively impact them. The language in the state statutes and the town’s regulations addresses this potential and provides the agency with the authority to regulate any activity that may impact a wetland or watercourse. Technically, regardless of where an activity is relative to a wetland or watercourse, if the activity may impact the resource, it will be regulated.
Scientists have determined on average 100 to 150 feet of naturally vegetated land provides enough protection against an assortment of impacts from a diversity of land uses. In Greenwich, regulations set the Upland Review Area at 100 feet from wetlands and watercourses, unless those resources occur within the public drinking water supply watershed, then the buffer is 150 feet. While protecting the 100 and 150-foot buffer to wetland and watercourses is desirable, it is not always possible and sometimes not needed depending on the resource’s value and the nature of the proposed work.
Some seasonally wet portions of residential properties are indeed wetlands; despite the fact they are maintained as lawn or are only wet for a part of the year. As previously explained, wetlands are determined based on soil characteristics. What appears above ground defines the functional significance of a wetland, not its presence or absence.
It is best if these areas are naturally vegetated. This does not necessarily mean the area has to be ugly or unkempt. The IWWA has approved many applications to transform an aesthetically displeasing spot into an attractive, naturally landscaped area. The use of native shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants, e.g., grasses, flowers, can be very appealing, easier to care for, and environmentally friendly.
Plans to fill or drain wetlands are inconsistent with the intent of the regulations and are rarely approved. The agency staff are available to meet with you on-site to discuss options for improvement, or a wetland scientist, landscape architect, landscape designer, or other professional can be hired to devise a plan for review.