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Wetland Regulation in Minnesota

What is a wetland?

When most people think of wetlands, they think of swampy, marshy areas complete with ducks and cattails. While those areas are indeed wetlands, many other wetlands look quite different and may even have no surface water for all or part of the year. Some wetlands support trees and shrubs; some are farmed.

Technically, a wetland must meet three criteria:

Why are wetlands important?

Wetlands were once considered wasted space, a hindrance to urban development and crop production. In Minnesota, an estimated 11 million acres of wetlands have been drained or filled over the last hundred years, leaving about 10 million acres. While this represents a 50 percent loss statewide, some areas of Minnesota have lost more than 90 percent of their original wetlands.

Wetland Photo

A growing awareness of these benefits has led to many laws regulating wetland draining and filling, as well as the discharge of pollutants into wetlands.

Wetland regulation

In most cases, draining or filling a wetland will require a permit or some other authorization in Minnesota; applicants will often need to show efforts to avoid wetlands and may be required to replace drained or filled wetland area. The following agencies will typically be involved:

The United States Army Corps of Engineers:

Photo of cattailsWork in any wetland or water area generally requires a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers regardless of whether other state, local, or U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service permits are required. You may contact the United States Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul office at 651-290-5375; TTY 800/290-5858; or consult its web site at http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil.(Click on the Corps Permits button). The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Historic Preservation Officer review United States Army Corps of Engineers permit applications for their impact on cultural resources and federal endangered species. Applicants are encouraged to contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the State Historic Preservation Officer early in project planning to avoid later permit delays. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service can be reached at 612-725-3548, or check its website at http://www.fws.gov.

The State Historic Preservation Officer can be reached at 651-296-5434.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

The Department of Natural Resources administers the Public Waters Work Permit Program on certain lakes, watercourses and wetlands in Minnesota.  To determine whether a particular wetland is regulated by the Department of Natural Resources, contact the Department of Natural Resources hydrologist in the Department of Natural Resources regional office closest to the wetland area (this number is listed in the government section of the phone book).  If you cannot find the number, you may call the main Department of Natural Resources office at 651/296-6157 in the Twin Cities; toll-free at 888-646-6367 (888-MINNDNR); TTY 651-296-5484 in the Twin Cities; toll-free TTY 800-657-3929. This information is also available at the web site address http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/resources/index.html.

Local governments:

Minnesota'sWetland Conservation Act regulates wetland draining and filling activities on all wetlands not covered by the Department of Natural Resource's Public Waters Work Permit Program. Although the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources administers the Wetland Conservation Action on a statewide basis, local governments--including cities, counties, townships, soil and water conservation districts, and watershed management organizations--implement the Wetland Conservation Action locally. Local governments may also have their own wetland ordinances. To find out who carries out the Wetland Conservation Action in your area, contact your county soil and water conservation district --listed in the government section of the phone book-- or the main office of the Board of Water and Soil Resources (651-296-3767; TTY users can call 800-627-3529).

Agencies that have some jurisdiction over wetlands but generally need not be contacted directly by landowners include:

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service:

Native Grass PhotoUnder stipulations contained in the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act, a landuser who alters a wetland for agricultural purposes loses eligibility for many United States Department of Agriculture benefits including the Conservation Reserve Program, federal farm loans, price support programs, etc.  Farmers should contact the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service prior to any drainage activity. Potential agricultural land buyers should also contact Natural Resources Conservation Service to check for the presence of wetlands.  Please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, listed under the United States government in the telephone directory; or the Natural Resources Conservation Service state office at 651-602-7900; TTY 651-602-7859.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency:

United States Army Corps of Engineers permits are not valid unless the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has certified that the project will comply with state water quality standards. This certification is handled by the two agencies as part of the United States Army Corps of Engineers permit review process; applicants generally do not need to contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency directly. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also regulates the discharge of pollutants, including stormwater, into wetlands.

Wetland Violations

The Enforcement Division of the Department of Natural Resources enforces most of Minnesota's wetland regulations. People with concerns that specific wetland draining or filling activities occurring in their area may be unauthorized should contact their local Department of Natural Resources conservation officer and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Phone numbers for conservation officers are available by calling 651-296-6157 in the Twin Cities; or toll-free at 888-646-6367. The United States Army Corps of Engineers number is 651-290-5375.

Pond PhotoIf you have a project that might affect a wetland:

Advice for project applicants

Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155 | (651) 296-3767 | Fax (651) 297-5615 | TTY (800) 627-3529

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