Do I Have a Wetland?

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State and Federal Rules Apply to Wetlands

Legal definition of a wetland

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ legal definition of wetlands states…“Wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water 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.” 

But what does that mean?

To have a wetland you must have water, and you must have enough water to keep the soil wet. The soil must be wet enough, long enough, for water-loving plants to grow. Your location in North Carolina, the shape of the land, and the type of soils will determine where the wetlands are and how they were formed.

If you walk around your property, you might have wetland if…

  • Water

    • you sink in the mud when you walk out onto the property.
    • you have a stream, river, pond, spring or seep on or near your property.
    • you have standing or flowing water on top of the ground for a long time, or multiple times a year.
    • you have low areas that hold water for a long time after it rains.
    • you have leaves on the ground that are stained a darker color than in other areas.
  • Soil

    • your soil is a dark grey or black color.
    • your grey soil has rust colored streaks or clumps in it.
    • you dig a hole and it fills with water or you can see water seeping in from the sides.
    • your soil feels wet or you can squeeze water out of it.
  • Plants

    • your tree trunks are much wider at the bottom (buttressed) or have multiple trunks.
    • you see water marks or moss lines on the trunks of your trees.
    • you have bald cypress or tupelo gum trees.
    • you have plants that can tolerate a lot of water [these are listed as Obligate (OBL), Facultative Wetland (FACW), and Facultative (FAC) species in the National Wetland Plant list].

How can you know for sure?

The only way to know for sure that you have a wetland on your property is to have a professional come make a wetland determination. The US Army Corps of Engineers makes the final determination on whether a wetland is present, and they work together with the state of NC if a property owner desires to make changes to that wetland. In North Carolina, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Wilmington District has five field offices that serve smaller regions across the state. You can find contact information for staff for your area here.