Wetlands come in a variety of forms–swamps, bogs, coastal marshes, wet meadows, estuaries, fresh water marshes. Generally, these are areas where groundwater is at or near the surface, or where surface water collects for a significant part of the growing season. The State’s Wetlands Protection Act protects bordering vegetated wetlands. The difficulty, for the homeowner contemplating landscaping or an addition, is determining whether they are within 100 feet of a wetland and as a result need to file with the Conservation Commission.
Wetlands in Massachusetts can be determined by an area’s plant community, soils, or hydrology. The ground and surface water conditions in a wetland are conducive to plants that have adapted to wet conditions. These plants are called wetland indicator plants. The Wetlands Protection Act specifies how a wetland line can be determined by vegetation. If the vegetation is altered, it is often necessary to use soils or hydrology to determine the wetland line. The State’s regulations define wetland indicator plants, specify when delineations may be based on vegetation alone, and explain when soils and indicators of hydrology should be used to delineate the wetland boundary.
The State Wetlands Protection Act requires an inland wetland to be bordering a body of water to be protected. In other words, wet meadows, marshes, swamps, and bogs must border on either a creek, a river, a stream, a pond or a lake to be considered a bordering vegetated wetland, and protected by the State Act. Isolated wetlands must be large enough to hold a quarter acre foot of water at least once a year. For a full explanation of isolated wetlands see Isolated Land Subject to Flooding.