Much To Do About Wetlands


The management of wetlands – a primer

Written by: Jean MacKay
This article answers some basic questions regarding the regulatory concerns and requirements about wetlands management: applicable regulations, when to leave wetlands alone and when to manage, and which wetlands are regulated.


  • Calling in a wetland consultant to define the wetland boundaries is the first line of defense.
  • Delineation of wetland boundaries is complicated by the fact that wetland boundaries are often highly variable.
  • Wetlands often transition gradually into uplands as water levels, soil saturation, drainage, and topography change, making it hard to define distinct beginning and ending points.
  • To delineate wetlands, on-site observations include:
    • Vegetation – type of plants growing to delineate boundaries: hydrophytic plants adapt to saturated soils and wetland conditions, obligate wetland plants are always found in wetlands, and facultative wetland plants are almost always found in wetlands.
    • Soils – soil samples are taken to assess soil oxygen levels for hydric soils, limited by the presence of water for long periods of time. These hydric soils often have a sulfidic odor and usually contain predominately decomposed plant material.
    • Hydrology – observation includes: sediment deposits, depth of surface, water depth of saturated soils, water marks on vegetation, drift lines, and drainage patterns.
  • The United States Army Corps of Engineers is the primary governmental agency regulating wetland activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344), which prohibits the discharge of dredged or fill material into the waters of the United States without a permit.
  • “Waters” of the United States include navigable waters as well and non-navigable water bodies, perennial and intermittent streams, wetlands, mudflats, and ponds.
  • Section 404 permits are required for depositing fill or dredged material in waters of the U.S. for:
    • Utility installations, stream relocations, or culverting.
    • Site development fills for residential, commercial, or recreational developments.
    • Construction of revetments, groins, levees, dams, dikes, breakwaters, and weirs.
  • Wetland regulation is state specific and is managed through local authorities.
  • Permitting may take a number of months, so early application is recommended.
  • One should contact the local Corps office with any questions. Failure to comply with the terms of a valid permit can result in penalties, including fines and requirements to restore the area.
  • Case studies compiled by the USGA Wildlife Links Program and Audubon International can be found at:
    by clicking on “wetlands on golf courses.”

Published: 2003 United States Golf Association, Green Section Record November/December 2003

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