Not long ago, wetlands were once considered wasteland, a hindrance to development and crop production. That's no longer the case. Today, wetlands are considered a key element of a healthy ecosystem.
I am reminding developers and landowners to check with us before beginning any project that might impact a wetland. In most cases. draining or filling a wetland requires a permit or some other authorization under local, state, or federal regulations. Additionally, landowners will most likely need to show efforts to avoid wetlands and may be required to replace a drained, filled, or excavated wetland area.
Last month was American Wetlands Month which, calls attention to the environmental benefits wetlands provide, such as:
-- Wetlands can reduce flooding by slowing excess water runoff during times of heavy rainfall or snowmelt.
-- Wetlands can improve water quality by filtering sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants out of water before it enters rivers and lakes.
-- Wetlands provide habitat for many fish, wildlife, and plant species, some of which can only survive in wetlands.
-- Wetlands can offer commercial uses like growing wild rice or cranberries.
-- Wetlands can provide areas for public recreation and education.
When most people think of wetlands, they picture swampy, marshy areas complete with ducks and cattails. While those areas are indeed wetlands, others might look quite different and may not even have surface water for much of the year. I believe that not all wetlands are readily identifiable by people without specialized training. The city has resources available to help people make those determinations.
I would suggest the following to anyone who has a project that might impact a wetland:
-- Early in the process, contact the city or county in which you live, which is listed in the government section of your phone book. The Planning and Zoning Department can give you appropriate guidance as to whom to contact.
-- Find out if land you want to alter is a wetland. Your local unit of government will either help you make this determination or direct you appropriately.
-- Fill out a General Projects Form. This form is available from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources web site (www.bwsr.state.mn.us/wetlands/index.html).
-- Before you purchase property for development, consider the existence of any wetlands and weigh the environmental impact and financial cost of disturbing those areas against the project's benefits.
-- Thoroughly consider and document the alternatives you have considered to avoid wetland impacts.
-- Consider the possible concerns of the community and the project's neighbors.
-- If you proceed with a project, determine where the wetlands are and design your project accordingly.
Minnesota's local governments -- cities, counties, watershed management organizations, soil and water conservation districts, and townships -- implement Minnesota's Wetland Conservation Act, which is the state's wetland protection law. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources administers the act statewide, and the DNR enforces it. More information is available by calling Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation Department at 828-6197.
(Brethorst is planner/community development coordinator for the city of Brainerd.)
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