Inland Wetlands and Watercourses
What if I Own an Inland Wetland or Watercourse?
If your property includes inland wetlands or watercourses, you are a custodian of a valuable natural resource. If you find that you need to conduct work in or near these resources (e.g., clearing, grading, piping, culverting, excavating, filling, constructing), you must submit a description of your proposed project for review and approval by your town's inland wetlands agency. Many towns employ Inland Wetlands Staff, such as a land use administrator or agent, to provide guidance and assistance.
Municipal Inland Wetlands Agency
Each of Connecticut's 169 towns have established, by ordinance, an inland wetlands agency comprised of appointed or elected volunteers from the community. Depending on the town, a planning and zoning commission, conservation commission, or other entity may act as the inland wetlands agency. The inland wetlands agency is responsible for implementing and enforcing the Connecticut Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act (Act).
The Connecticut Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act
The Act creates a land-use regulatory process which considers the environmental impacts of proposed development activities. A person proposing to conduct an activity that will likely impact or affect an inland wetland or watercourse must first obtain a permit from the municipal inland wetlands agency. In the case of a state agency activity, or when an activity is conducted on state land, a permit is required from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)).
The Act is implemented and enforced through regulations adopted by the municipal inland wetlands agency. Regulations prescribe the form and content of applications, the standards and criteria for acting on such applications, as well as other business of the inland wetlands agency.
The Act, and therefore municipal inland wetlands agency regulations, include the definition of "regulated activity". Regulated activities are broadly defined to mean "…any operation or use of a wetland or watercourse involving removal or deposition of material, or any obstruction, construction, alteration or pollution, of such wetlands or watercourses…." Regulated activities, for the most part, require a permit.
In addition, construction or other work located in areas adjacent to inland wetlands or watercourses may have an impact on those resources. For this reason, many towns regulate activities in designated areas surrounding wetlands and watercourses. Such areas are described variously in town regulations as review, setback, or buffer areas.
In order to conduct a regulated activity, a person must first apply for and obtain a permit from the municipal inland wetlands agency. A permit application may need to include a plan depicting the proposed activity as well as engineering and/or environmental information describing its impacts. The inland wetlands agency may grant or deny a permit, or grant it with conditions as are necessary to mitigate for impacts. Correction of an existing environmental problem at the project site, such as stabilizing stream bank erosion or restoring a degraded inland wetland, may be encouraged to mitigate impacts of proposed activities. The inland wetlands agency may hold a public hearing on a permit application. The applicant is expected to defend the project in terms of the permit decision factors established in the Act, and further established in the town's regulations. In addition, the applicant may appeal a municipal inland wetlands agency decision; however, the appeal is heard by the Connecticut Superior Court, not DEEP.
The Act omits certain activities from the definition of regulated activity. These activities, called "as of right" or "nonregulated" activities, do not require a permit. However, this determination cannot be made by the person proposing and/or conducting the activity, it must be made by the municipal inland wetlands agency. Most agencies have a form that a person can complete to request a review of their proposed activity to determine if it is as of right or nonregulated. These activities involve certain agricultural, residential, water company, maintenance, conservation, and recreational uses of inland wetlands or watercourses. A municipal inland wetlands agency's regulations will provide information as to the activities that can be considered as of right or nonregulated, and the process for requesting a review and ruling.
Content last updated on March 10, 2020.