Inland wetlands are defined, in Connecticut, as land, including submerged land (not including tidal wetlands) “which consists of any of the soil types designated as poorly drained, very poorly drained, alluvial, and floodplain by the National Cooperative Soils Survey, as may be amended from time to time, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)”.25 According to data from the USDA’s NRCS, there are or were approximately 95,000 acres of alluvial and floodplain soils and 366,000 acres of poorly drained and very poorly drained soils in Connecticut. Collectively, the area underlain by these soils accounted for a minimum of approximately 14 percent of the total area in Connecticut.
Implementation of the inland wetlands law has been problematic.
Activities that are likely to affect inland wetlands and watercourses are regulated by each town’s municipal inland wetlands agency. Regulated activities include, but are not limited to, filling, dredging, clearing, grubbing, grading, piping, culverting, channelizing, diverting, damming, dewatering or otherwise temporarily or permanently altering inland wetlands and watercourses. A report by the Council in 2008, “Swamped”, identified a number of problems with how the law is implemented. Though some improvements have been made, there remain structural impediments to efficient implementation:
- Forms that are required to be submitted by municipalities on the actions of their inland wetlands agencies are not submitted electronically. This requires the limited staff resources to convert the written filings to electronic records.
- The requirement that at least one member of a municipal inland wetlands agency be trained is not enforced.*
- The Inland Wetlands Management Section at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has developed an online training program and produced a number of high-quality educational videos.** However, there is no guarantee that funding to maintain or update the on-line training will continue to be available.
Tidal wetlands are defined in the Tidal Wetlands Act by their current or former tidal connection, and their capacity to support certain wetland vegetation. Unlike inland wetlands, tidal wetlands are regulated exclusively by DEEP and not by municipal inland wetlands agencies. Tidal wetlands are threatened with inundation, due to a rise in sea level attributed to the impacts of climate change, that will result in loss of habitat for marsh-dependent species.
Wetlands serve many functions; one of them being their unique ability to store and sequester carbon. Tidal wetlands remove more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere per hectare than forests. Likewise, forested wetlands, which comprise most of the inland wetlands in the state serve as important carbon sinks and continue to sequester carbon as organic matter within the forested system (both above and below ground). Although coastal wetlands are generally better carbon sinks than freshwater wetlands, the substantial extent of forested wetlands across the state should be recognized as important to greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation strategies and incorporated into inland wetland protection efforts in Connecticut.26
Technical Note: *Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) Section 22a-42(d) requires that at least one member of the inland wetlands agency or staff of the agency be a person who has completed the comprehensive training program. **An online course would fulfill that training requirement as well as for duly authorized agents (pursuant to CGS section 22a-42a(c)(2)); however, that online training is not currently available. In addition, many towns (up to 20 percent) fail to meet their mandated reporting requirements. The unreliableness of municipal data led the Council to drop its tracking of “reported” wetlands lost.
25 CGS Sec. 22a-38 (15); www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_440.htm#sec_22a-38
26 DEEP, Final Report: Working and Natural Lands Working Group, Wetlands Subgroup, November 2020, portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/climatechange/GC3/GC3-working-group-reports/GC3_WNL_Wetlands_Final_Report_111320.pdf