Every year, the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and its local Conservation Commission partners review thousands of applications from developers, homeowners and other parties who want to conduct work in or near wetlands. This review is critical to ensure that our wetlands are protected and preserved following the overarching policy to avoid, minimize and mitigate wetland alterations.
The Value of Wetlands
Wetlands resources are critical contributors to quality of life. Specifically, they:
- Generate tourism and recreational opportunities;
- Reduce pollution and flooding;
- Support ecosystems; and
- Provide cleaner water.
Wetlands contribute to a strong economy. Their economic benefits are significant and have been documented:
- Mass Audubon estimated that freshwater and saltwater wetlands in MA provide $2.3 billion in annual ecosystem service value;
- The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that wetlands in the Charles River Basin prevent $18 million in flood damage annually;
- The MWRA avoided the cost of a new $180 million filtration plant because of natural waste treatment provided by wetlands near the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.
Wetlands Permitting & Enforcement
MassDEP permitting and enforcement actions and staff resources have declined in recent years. This decline has occurred as the economy has slowed and wetlands applications (NOIs) have dropped. A reduction in resources has not prevented the agency from the review of thousands of applications; the issuance of permits; the continued education of our regulated community; and the development of an improved data management system. In addition, MassDEP has taken big steps to reduce wetlands losses and to restore wetlands that have been lost.
Wetlands Loss & Restoration
Wetlands loss has slowed dramatically in the Commonwealth. On average, from 2001 through 2005, the Commonwealth lost 157 acres of wetland each year. From 2005 through 2009, the average acres of wetland lost each year declined to 37, an improvement of 77 percent. Moreover, the percentage of these losses that were planned and conditioned in permits has increased, while wetlands lost to illegal activity has declined substantially. For those losses that have occurred illegally, MassDEP has taken steps to mitigate the consequences. In 2011, the agency helped restore wetland at 62 sites. This success included:
- Restoration of 18.1 acres of wetlands;
- Restoration of 2,270 linear feet of bank; and
- Prevention of additional damage at 13 construction sites.
Over a longer period, from Fiscal Year 2006 through Fiscal Year 2011, MassDEP actions restored 95.7 acres of wetland and 17,635 linear feet of bank. In addition,the aerial flyover program has identified several violations. Since 2003, that program has recorded $3 million in penalties and restored 62 acres of wetlands.