Recognizing the important benefits of wetlands, the Minnesota Legislature in 1991 enacted the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA), which aims for no-net-loss of wetlands. The law regulates draining and filling of wetlands and, if wetland loss is unavoidable, requires replacement. The law is one of the most comprehensive state wetland protection laws and has been used as a model for other states.
The purposes of the Wetlands Conservation Act (WCA) are:
- achieve no net loss in the quantity, quality, and biological diversity of Minnesota’s existing wetlands;
- increase the quantity, quality, and biological diversity of Minnesota’s wetlands by restoring or enhancing diminished or drained wetlands;
- avoid direct or indirect impacts from activities that destroy or diminish the quantity, quality, and biological diversity of wetlands; and
- replace wetland values where avoidance of activity is not feasible and prudent.
Because local officials generally havea good grasp of community needs and values, the WCA gives administrative authority for the act to local governments. In the Twin Cities metropolitan area, a city, town, or water management organization may administer the act; in Greater Minnesota, it may be a county or city. These local governments may delegate the responsibility elsewhere (to the local SWCD, for example). Brown County serves as the LGU for WCA. A district employee serves as a member of the Technical Evaluation Panel (TEP). The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) oversees the act at the state level.
What is a wetland?
When most people think of wetlands, they think of swampy, marshy areas complete with ducks and cattails. While those areas are indeed wetlands, many other wetlands look quite different and may even be completely dry for the majority of the year. Some wetlands support trees and shrubs and some may even be farmed.
A wetland is defined by three criteria:
1. it must have mostly hydric soils;
2. it must be generally inundated or saturated above or below the surface; and
3. it must support a prevalence of vegetation adapted to wet soil conditions.
Why are wetlands important?
Wetlands have been considered wasted space and drained and filled for development and crop production for many years. In Minnesota, an estimated 11 million acres of wetland area have been lost over the last hundred years, leaving about 7.5 million acres. This represents a 60 percent loss.
Far from being useless, wetlands provide many important benefits which have only become apparent as wetland numbers have dwindled. These benefits can include:
- storage area for excess water during times of flooding
- filtering of sediments and nutrients before they enter lakes, rivers and streams
- fish and wildlife habitat
- public recreation
- commercial uses
More WCA information: