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Buying Land

Things to Know Before Buying Wetlands

June 7, 2024

Wetlands are incredibly important and valuable ecosystems, but there are quite a few factors that prospective buyers should consider before buying wetlands, especially if they’re planning to build or make any major changes to the property. Failing to do proper research and planning accordingly could wind up costing a landowner thousands of dollars in fines and other fees.

During a recent episode of the National Land Podcast, Curt Kleist from CK Wetlands shared his expertise on wetlands and illustrated the costs of failing to identify wetlands before building or developing on a property.

Here are a few things to consider before buying wetlands!

What is a Wetland Delineation?

The first step in determining whether or not a given area classifies as a wetland is to have a wetland delineation performed. Wetland delineation is the process used to map the boundaries of a wetland on a property, and typically takes three factors into account: soils, vegetation, and hydrology. Based on these factors, the boundary for a wetland can be determined.

Read more about wetland delineation here!

Wetland Boundaries Can Shift

One of the most important reasons that a current wetland delineation is an important first step is because the boundaries of a wetland can change over time. 

As Kleist explained during his podcast appearance, this is the reason that many wetland delineations are only good for five years. The size of a wetland can change if an area sees significantly more or less precipitation over multiple years. Many delineations are based on a 30-year average to account for these changes, but a few consecutive years of significantly high precipitation could certainly change these boundaries.

This is why buyers or landowners looking to build on a wetland are best off getting a current wetland delineation performed on their property to know for certain whether their land classifies as a wetland and ensure that they’re complying with all state and federal regulations associated with impacting a wetland.

Understanding What Constitutes Impact

It’s also important to have a good understanding of exactly what is considered an “impact.” Building a home on top of a wetland would obviously qualify as an impact, but many other types of projects also fall under that umbrella. According to Kleist, “Traditionally [an impact] is any kind of fill, excavating, or anything that alters the hydrology of the wetland is what I tell people. If you’re putting in a road overlaid on the wetland, that’s an impact. Especially in agricultural areas if you’re piling the wetland and changing the drainage pattern to dry out the wetland, that would definitely classify as impact.”

It’s best to consult with an expert on wetlands to know for certain if a specific project will constitute as an impact. If it does, it’s important to go through the process of purchasing adequate wetland credits to offset the project’s impact on the overall environment. Failing to do so can have costly consequences.

The Cost of Not Identifying Wetlands

While some may believe that avoiding the proper legal channels and trying to develop their wetlands covertly will save them time and money, this is far from the truth. Legal restrictions on wetlands are put in place to protect the environment, and there are severe consequences for landowners who fail to comply with these regulations.

Speaking to the true cost of not properly identifying wetlands on a property, Kleist stated, “Traditionally when you go through a wetland placement plan and mitigation, you buy credits at a one-to-one ratio. So if you’ve impacted 1000 square feet of wetlands, you’d buy 1000 square feet of wetland credits. A lot of times if you do this after the fact, you’ll pay at a two-to-one ratio, so you’d be paying twice as much on top of any local or state fines as well. It’s definitely more expensive on the back end and you’re better off doing the initial site planning beforehand.”

Compounding these increased credit fees with other fines and financial penalties can easily wind up costing landowners tens of thousands of dollars after everything is said and done. Any landowner looking to develop a wetland on their property is best off getting in touch with a qualified expert at the onset of their project to ensure compliance throughout the project’s duration and avoid paying more for their development or causing unnecessary damage to the environment.

If you’ve got questions about buying wetlands or identifying a wetland on your property, contact your local Land Professional today!

About the Author
Bryce Berglund is National Land Realty’s Content Marketing Specialist. He is currently residing in Minnesota, where he attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Bryce is an appreciator of all things artistic, and likes to spend time at his cabin with his dog and family.