Where water meets land

What hey are

Wetlands are part of the foundation of our nation’s water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that are downstream. Wetlands feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. Wetlands are also economic drivers because of their key role in fishing, hunting, agriculture and recreation.

Wetlands include swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands vary widely because of differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors.

Wetlands are often found alongside waterways and in flood plains. However, some wetlands have no apparent connection to surface water like rivers, lakes or the ocean, but have critical groundwater connections.

Wetlands Definitions

Generally, wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface (Cowardin, December 1979). Wetlands vary widely because of regional and local differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors, including human disturbance. Indeed, wetlands are found from the tundra to the tropics and on every continent except Antarctica.

For regulatory purposes under the Clean Water Act, the term wetlands means “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.”

What are wetlands?

1987 Corps Wetland Delineation Manual and Regional Supplements: Manuals and supporting documents for identifying wetlands across the U.S. including peer reviews, public comments and draft regional supplements.

National Wetland Plant List: Botanical information on wetland plants from across the U.S. including biological attributes, distribution maps, pictures, references and more. Updated 2012 National Wetland Plant list published May 9, 2012.

Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States, Second Edition (Federal Geographic Data Committee, 2013) (PDF) (90 pp, 1.4MB, About PDF) - Adapted from Cowardin et al., 1979 (below), this edition provides minimum requirements and guidelines for classification of both wetlands and deepwater habitats that are consistent with the FGDC Wetlands Mapping Standard (FGDC-STD-015-2009).

Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States (Cowardin et al., 1979) (PDF) (142 pp, 17.03MB, About PDF) – Additional information on the characterization of wetlands and deep water habitats

Wetlands – Wetland Types

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Water saturation largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favor the growth of specially adapted plants and promote the development of characteristic wetlands soils.”
– EPA, America’s Wetlands: Our Vital Link Between Land and Water

EPA, America’s Wetlands: Our Vital Link Between Land and Water

Status and Trends

Wetlands Status and Trends Reports: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) publishes a variety of national, state, and regional Status and Trends reports, including the latest national report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009. The purpose of the reports is to track and estimate the status and trends of wetland extent in the United States. Coastal wetland acreage trends are documented in the Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States (PDF) (58 pp, 12MB, About PDF) report by the FWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Prairie wetland acreage trends are documented in the Status and Trends of Prairie Wetlands in the United States 1997 to 2009 (PDF) (80 pp, 17 MB, About PDF) report.

National Resources Inventory: The NRI is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Iowa State University Statistical Laboratory. The NRI is a statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on U.S. non-Federal lands, including wetlands. The latest report is the 2010 NRI Summary Report (PDF) (166 pp, 7.7 MB, About PDF)


Wetlands and Watersheds

Wetlands and Watershed Planning

Wetlands are important elements of a watershed because they serve as the link between land and water resources. Wetlands protection programs are most effective when coordinated with other surface water and ground-water protection programs and with other resource management programs, such as flood control, water supply, protection of fish and wildlife, recreation, control of stormwater, and non-point source pollution.

EPA has been working in partnership with many others to design and implement the watershed approach. The following EPA resources may be helpful to you:

Partnership Agreement for Watershed Management between the U.S. Department of the Army Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Office of Water)

Wetlands and Watersheds Factsheet

Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters, EPA 841-B-08-002, March 2008

Region 5 Wetlands Supplement: Incorporating Wetlands into Watershed Planning (PDF) (130 pp, 1.4 MB), February 2013

The Watershed Approach

Center for Watershed Protection Exit EPA Disclaimer – A watershed planning site containing guidance on local tools to protect wetlands.

Non-Point Source Pollution and Wetlands

Non-point source pollution is the Nation’s leading source of surface water and ground water quality impairment. When properly managed, wetlands can help prevent non-point source pollution from degrading water quality.

Wetlands and Runoff Factsheet

Wetlands and Non-Point Source Factsheet – Managing Wetlands to Control Non-Point Source Pollution – This is one in a series of factsheets designed to help the public increase their understanding and management of non-point source pollution in their community.

2005 National Management Measures to Protect and Restore Wetlands and Riparian Areas for the Abatement of Nonpoint Source Pollution - describes practices to reduce nonpoint source pollution through the protection and restoration of wetlands and riparian areas.

1990 National Guidance: Wetlands and Non-Point Source Control – describes how State non-point source programs can use the protection of existing wetlands and the restoration of previously lost or degraded wetlands to meet the water quality objectives of adjacent or downstream water bodies.

Clean Water Act Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program

Urban Stormwater and Wetlands

Natural Wetlands and Urban Stormwater: Potential Impacts and Management (PDF) (84 pp, 212K, About PDF) – Addresses the issues and options related to the protection of natural wetlands that receive stormwater and urban runoff.Protecting Natural Wetlands: A Guide for Stormwater Best Management Practices (PDF) (181 pp, 2.8MB, About PDF) – This document describes the potential benefits, limitations, and appropriate application of best management practices (BMPs) that can be implemented to protect the functions of natural wetlands from the impacts of urban stormwater discharges and other diffuse sources of runoff.

Floodplain Protection

Floodplains are the relatively low areas adjacent to rivers, lakes, and oceans that are periodically inundated. Floodplain lands and adjacent waters, including wetlands, combine to form a complex, dynamic physical and biological system that supports a multitude of water resources. Floodplains provide the Nation with natural flood and erosion control, natural water filtering processes, a wide variety of habitats for plant and animal communities, places for recreation and scientific study, and historic sites.

Wetland Restoration and Creation

Wetland Restoration

Constructed Wetlands

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