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Benefits of Continued Virginia Coastal Zone Wetland Buffer Preservation and Implementation


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Title: Benefits of Continued Virginia Coastal Zone Wetland Buffer Preservation and Implementation

Benefits of Continued Virginia Coastal Zone
Wetland Buffer Preservation and Implementation
Bryan Johnson Wetland Soils 570
Virginias Coastal Zone
  • Covers approx. one-quarter of the state
    (5,727,977 acres)
  • Extends from the flat sandy soils of the Eastern
    Shore and southeastern Virginia, to the gently
    rolling forests and farmlands of the Peninsula,
    Middle Peninsula, and Northern Neck
  • Includes the highly developed areas that extend
    from the metropolitan localities of Fairfax,
    Alexandria, and Arlington, south along the
    interstate 95 corridor which passes through the
    cities of Fredricksburg, Richmond, and Petersburg
  • It also extends east and south along the
    Interstate 64 corridor to the port of Hampton
    Roads and ocean coast at Virginia Beach

VADEQ, 2001
Coastal Zone Population Increase
  • Population in Virginias coastal localities
    increased by more than 500,000 people between
    1990 and 2000
  • Additional people in the coastal zone has
    resulted in an increase in the conversion of
    forest and agricultural lands to developed lands
  • Virginia ranks 11th in the nation for the rate of
    land conversion (approx. 68,700 acres per year
    changed from farming and forest to
    residential/commercial uses)
  • Within Virginia, the coastal zone is the area
    undergoing the most rapid changes
  • The National Resource Inventory estimated that
    developed lands in the Virginia Coastal zone grew
    by 54 percent between 1982 and 1997 (compared to
    a 43 statewide rate for the same interval)

VADEQ, 2001
Reasons For Growth
  • Virginias Coastal Zone Provides an Excellent
    Habitat for Humanity
  • Natural Assets Of Virginias Coastal Zone
    Include fertile land, moderate climate,
    productive estuaries and ocean, and it is located
    in the middle of one of the worlds greatest
    civilized seacoasts
  • Mix of Resource Based Industries Forestry
    products, agriculture, mining and commercial
  • Natural Resources/Recreational Activities
    Hunting, fishing, boating, and bird watching

Coastal Zone Land Usage
  • Even with the relatively high rates of land
    conversion, more than half of the coastal zone
    land area remains forested
  • Approximately one quarter of the land area is
    used for farming
  • Of the remaining non-forested land, about 9
    percent of the area is developed and wetlands
    occupy over 10 of the remaining area

VADEQ, 2001
Coastal Zone Wetlands
  • The coastal zone contains all 310,813 acres of
    Virginias tidal wetlands and 909,097 acres
    (approximately 80) of the states nontidal
  • It has been estimated that over half of
    Virginias wetlands have been lost since colonial
    times - Most historic nontidal losses are
    attributed to agriculture while most historic
    tidal wetlands losses have been caused by
    commercial and residential development along the
    shore line. Currently, nontidal wetland impacts
    are generally a result of commercial and
    residential development while tidal wetland
    impacts are often associated with construction of
    shoreline erosion protection structures. As with
    tidal wetlands, small incremental impacts on
    subaqueous lands can cumulatively alter the
    aquatic environment. Immediate impacts, which
    may be long term result from large dredging and
    shoreline nourishment projects.
  • Recent wetland management programs have
  • slowed the rate of losses considerably, however,
  • current growth and development trends
  • continue to impact wetlands
  • Between 1996 and 2000, approximately 145
  • acres of tidal wetlands and 1138 acres of
  • nontidal wetlands were impacted in the coastal
  • zone

VADEQ, 2001
Why are our wetlands important?
  • Hydrologic Value - Wetlands slow and retain
    surface water, providing water storage and
    shoreline stabilization
  • Water Quality - Remove pollutants from surface
    runoff and small streams by retaining sediments
    and toxic pollutants attached to those sediments
    such as PCPs, phosphorus, heavy metals and
    pesticides. Wetland plants  also transform N and
    P into unavail. forms, reducing algal blooms and
    fish kills caused by these nutrients. 
  • Habitat Values - Wetlands provide wildlife
    habitat for a wide range of terrestrial and
    semi-aquatic animals and numerous plant species. 
    The aquatic and terrestrial habitats within a
    wetland provides  a variety of food sources and
    cover for nest sites and subsequent young. 
  • Direct Use Values - Because wetlands provide such
    a diversity of habitat for so many animals, they
    are of great use to humans through recreation,
    education and timber production.  In recreation
    and education, wetlands provide areas for both
    consumptive and non-consumptive use.  Consumptive
    use involves hunting and fishing, while
    non-consumptive uses include canoeing, bird
    watching, and studying animals and plants. 
    Wetlands also have economic value of producing
    sawtimber and pulpwood.  Many wetlands are
    dominated by trees and are actively managed for
    timber production

How can we protect our wetlands?
  • All wetland types are important resources, which
    is why even marginal wetlands are important to
    preserve and protect with some type of Buffer
  • What is a wetland buffer?
  • Area of vegetation which usually begins from the
    boundary of wetland dependent vegetation and
    extends outward, ending at the interface with
    another land use
  • Vary in size and nature depending upon the
    specific purpose for which it was created
  • Transition zones between the terrestrial and
    aquatic ecosystem, linking land and water on a
    given site or property, and linking landscapes
    together in a watershed

Wetland Buffer Vegetation
  • Wetland buffers containing diverse, multilayered,
    undisturbed vegetation result in maximum wetland
    quality and wildlife protection benefits
  • Each vegetative type has its own beneficial
  • - Grass has a high stem density effective in
  • - Trees stabilize soil and dissipate rainfall
  • - Shrubs are effective in filtering, stabilizing
    soil and dissipating rainfall energy

Example of a Wetland Buffer
Castelle et al., 1994
Hydrologic Importance of Wetland Buffers
  • Provide an area for surface water and groundwater
  • -As water flows across a buffer, it infiltrates
    through the vegetation, reducing the volume of
    runoff reaching the wetland. Secondly, as excess
    water is stored in the wetland, water levels rise
    and expand over the buffer area, thus presenting
    more surface area and another opportunity for
    water to soak into the ground
  • Reduce surface water runoff from surrounding land
    into the wetland
  • Potential storage/treatment system prior to
    direct discharge into wetland for drainage
    systems that are storm-sewered, drain-tiled or

Impact of Wetland Buffers on Water Quality
  • Provide pretreatment of runoff to ensure that
    natural wetland functions are not overwhelmed
    thereby sustaining wetland cleansing capabilities
  • Play a role in pre-treatment simply by their
    inherent nature as a place for water to filter,
    soak in, contact soil and be taken up by
  • Effective at providing some degree of
    pre-treatment for several sources of pollution
    such as
  • 1. Solids
  • 2. Phosphorus
  • 3. Nitrogen
  • 4. Biological pollutants
  • 5. Heavy Metals

Impact of Wetland Buffers on Solid Removal
  • Wetland Buffer Vegetation reduces energy of flow,
    thus slowing water down, spreading flow out and
    allowing gravity to settle particles too heavy to
    move at a reduce energy level
  • Figure 1 indicates that TSS (Total Suspended
    Solid) reduction of 70 and more can occur with
    certainty when buffer widths reach 50
  • Figure 1 shows that the lower limit of 70
    occurs for every instance when 100 of buffer was
    in place
  • The relationship of buffer width to water quality
    improvement is not linear, therefore, large
    increases in buffer size do not necessarily yield
    similar water quality benefits

Emmons, 2001
Impact of Wetland Buffers on Phosphorus Removal
  • Particulate filtering of organic material (ex.,
    grass, leaves, woody debris) is the principal P
    reduction process in wetland buffers
  • Over time, organic material breaks down, sorption
    bonds break and soluble phosphorus becomes
    mobile, at which point it can soak into the soil,
    be taken up by vegetation or flow away
  • Figure 2 shows that a 50 buffer width marks the
    transition between relatively low Phosphorus
    removal and higher removals (gt65)
  • Similar to TSS removal, relationship of buffer
    width to water quality improvement is not linear,
    therefore, large increases in buffer width may
    not yield similar water quality benefits

Emmons, 2001
Impact of Wetland Buffers on Nitrogen Removal
  • Wetland buffers contribute substantially to the
    preservation of groundwater quality by removal of
    NO-3 through denitrification and plant uptake
  • Figure 3 illustrates the removal of subsurface
    nitrate as a function of buffer width
  • Nitrate removal in buffers occurs mostly in the
    sub-soil, where anaerobic bacteria transform, or
    denitrify, nitrate to nitrogen gas
  • Surface nitrate removal (Figure 4) shows a
    similar pattern to all of the other contaminant
    removal versus buffer width relationships,
    however, overall removal seems to be less in the
    lower buffer width range
  • Nitrate is a soluble transition produce best
    reduced under anaerobic conditions in the soil
  • Surface reductions come mostly from infiltration,
    which becomes more of a factor for wider buffers

Emmons, 2001
Habitat Benefit Due to Wetland Buffers
  • Benefits of wetland buffers for both aquatic and
    terrestrial wildlife include corridor
    extension/connection, breeding and nesting cover,
    food sources, roosting sites, predator
    protection, and shelter from cold and hot
  • Water Cool Down Effect of Wetland Buffers -
    Buffer areas near standing water shade the water
    and keep temperatures down during the summer and,
    also help cool warm water runoff as it flows
    through wetland buffer vegetation. The cooling
    allows water to hold more oxygen at lower
    temperatures resulting in a viable aquatic
  • Wetland buffer areas lesson the importance of
    knowing the exact wetland boundary, therefore,
    allowing for some transition to occur, however,
    this does not minimize the importance of
    establishing a
  • line for purposes of defining buffer width

Quality of Life Benefits Due to Wetlands Buffers
  • Wetland Buffers not only protect our wetlands,
    but they act as extensions and add to all of the
    quality of life benefits associated with wetlands
  • Aesthetic and Open space values of Wetlands are
  • Recreation Benefits
  • Provide walking/running/hiking trails
  • Site Seeing/Photographing
  • Hunting/Fishing
  • Education Benefits
  • Study how nature works
  • Identify plant/animal species
  • Learn about water resources

Suggested Wetland Buffer Zone Minimum Width
Function Special Features Recommended Minimum Width (ft)
Sediment Reduction Steep slopes (5 15) and/or sensitive wetland 100
Sediment Reduction Shallow slopes (lt5 ) or low quality wetland 50
Sediment Reduction Slopes over 15 Consider buffer width additions w/ each 1 increase in slope
Phosphorus reduction Steep slope 100
Phosphorus reduction Shallow slope 50
Nitrate Reduction Focus on shallow groundwater flow 100
Biological contaminant and pesticide reduction 50
Wildlife habitat and corridor protection Unthreatened species 100
Wildlife habitat and corridor protection Rare, threatened or endangered species 200-300
Wildlife habitat and corridor protection Maintenance of species diversity 50 in rural area 100 in urban area
Minimize the negative impact of human pressures 50
Flood Control Variable, depending upon elevation of flood waters and potential damages
Emmons, 2001and Castelle et al., 1994
Current Virginia Laws Regulations Relevant to
Protecting Our Wetlands
  • Wetlands have been protected in Virginia since
    the passage of the Wetlands Act in 1972. Since
    then a variety of legislation has emerged to
    prevent the destruction of these important
    habitats such as the following
  • Wetlands Act, Title 28.2 Chapter 13
  • The Tidal wetlands Act is Virginia legislation
    aimed at protecting vegetated and nonvegetated
    tidal wetlands in Virginia. The goal of this law
    is to, preserve and prevent the despoliation and
    destruction of wetlands while accommodating
    necessary economic development in a manner
    consistent with wetlands preservation (VA Code
    28.2-1302). The Wetlands Act vests wetland
    regulatory authority in the hands of the local
  • This act created a Wetlands Zoning Ordinance that
    any county, city, or town in Virginia may adopt
    to regulate the use/development of local
    wetlands. Adoption requires localities to create
    a wetlands board consisting of five or seven
    residents of the jurisdiction. Local board
    jurisdiction extends from mean low water to mean
    high water where no emergent vegetation exists,
    and to 1.5 times the mean tide range where marsh
    is present.
  • The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is
    required by the Wetlands Act to, Promulgate and
    periodically update guidelines which
    scientifically evaluate vegetated and non
    vegetated wetlands by type and describe the
    consequences of use of these wetlands types
    (Section 28.2-1301). To accomplish this task,
    the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is
    charged with advising and assisting the
  • VMRC has jurisdiction over the permitting of
    projects within state-owned subaqueous lands.
    They also review proposed projects impacting
    wetlands, sand dunes and beaches in localities
    that have note adopted the Wetland Zoning

Trono, 2003
Virginia Wetland Protection Laws Regulations
  • Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, Title 10.1
    Chapter 21
  • The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act passed in
    1988 with its purpose being to improve the water
    quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries
    through measures to reduce adverse impacts of
    land use and development
  • Local governments, under the Bay Act, are
    required to designate Chesapeake Bay Preservation
    Areas (CBPAs), and incorporate protection of
    water quality into their comprehensive plans and
    ordinances. Many localities have adopted a model
    ordinance created by the Chesapeake Bay Local
    Assistance Department
  • The bay Act and regulations require a 100 feet
    wide vegetate buffer adjacent to and landward of
    all tidal shores, tidal wetlands, non-tidal
    wetlands connected by surface flow and contiguous
    to tidal wetlands or along water bodies with
    perennial flow. The Bay Act also stipulates that
    all land disturbances over 2,500 square feet that
    occur in CBPAs are required to comply with all
    local erosion and sediment control regulations
  • VMRC has jurisdiction over the permitting of
    projects within state-owned subaqueous lands.
    They also review proposed projects impacting
    wetlands, sand dunes and beaches in localities
    that have note adopted the Wetland Zoning
  • Erosion Sediment Control Law, Title 10.1
    Chapter 5 Article 4
  • The ESC Programs purpose is to control soil
    erosion, sedimentation, and nonagricultural
    runoff from regulated land-disturbing
    activities to prevent degradation of property
    and natural resources. DCR, the leading state
    agency for developing and implementing statewide
    nonpoint source pollution control programs and
    services, administers erosion and sediment
    control laws. Localities require a separate E
    S permit. Originally E S law reviewed projects
    over 10,000 square feet. With passage of the
    Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, this threshold
    was amended to include projects that disturb 2500
    square feet or more land in Chesapeake Bay
    Preservation Areas (CBPAs)

Trono, 2003
Virginia Wetland Protection Laws Regulations
  • Non-tidal Wetlands Program-DEQ Virginia Water
    Protection Program
  • The Virginia Water Protection Program at DEQ is
    responsible for the administration of the Section
    401 water quality programs delegated to the
    Commonwealth under the Clean water Act. The
    program also regulates impacts to state waters
    including wetlands as required under the State
    Water Control Law. The goal of VWPP is to
    ensure, no net loss of wetland acreage and
    function, protect beneficial uses of state
    waters, prevent degradation of valuable water
    resources, and to work toward the restoration of
    waters whose quality has been degraded (VWPP
    Guidelines, 2003).
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers
  • Based on Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act
    of 1899 and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,
    the Corps is responsible for administering a
    permit program for construction, dredging and
    filling activities in tidal and nontidal
    wetlands. The corps wetland definition is based
    solely on soil type, hydrology, and present
    vegetation. This differs form the commonwealth
    of Virginia definition which is based on
    vegetation, elevation, and connectivity.

Trono, 2003
Facts of Wetland Buffer Management
  • Protection of Wetlands by Buffers is an important
    part of all comprehensive surface water
    management plans
  • Buffers surrounding all wetlands are necessary
    not only for the protection of wetlands and the
    benefits they provide, but also for the
    functions/values that buffers serve as vegetative
    areas such as
  • Water Quality Protection erosion/sediment
  • nutrient, biological, and toxin removal
  • Hydrologic Event Modification/Groundwater
  • Interaction
  • 3. Aquatic/wildlife habitat protection
  • 4. Aesthetics/open space - Minimization
  • Human Impact
  • 5. Recreation/Environmental Education
  • Buffers, used as non-structural BMPs, can
    possibly negate the need for more expensive
    structural approaches
  • Enhancement of wetland buffers to assure their
    continued existence and functionality is
    warranted as part of good overall watershed
    management that supports low impact development
    and promotion of infiltration techniques.
  • Maintenance of buffer areas is essential to
    proper long-term operation with emphasis placed
    towards keeping runoff over the buffer in sheet
    flow, removing accumulations of pollutants,
    keeping vegetation healthy and keeping soils

Looking to the Future
  • Virginia is committed to preserving and
    protecting wetlands
  • State parks, natural area preserves, wildlife
  • areas and unclaimed tidal lands currently offer
  • to over 36,000 acres of wetlands through
  • programs that permanently restrict development
    by way
  • of perpetual easements or fee ownership, held by
  • state or local government or non-profit
  • Buffers along streams, rivers, and wetlands of
    the Commonwealth provide water quality and
    habitat benefits for both aquatic and terrestrial
  • Because of the importance of buffers, Virginia
    has placed upwards of 72 linear miles of buffers
    along our waters as part of a government enforced
    restoration project and hopes to restore 610
    miles by 2010

VADEQ, 2001
Looking to the Future
  • The Virginia Coastal Zone is under stress
    primarily because it is an excellent habitat for
    humanity, as it offers a wide diversity of
    opportunities to pursue business and recreation.
  • The attractiveness of the region has brought with
    it the challenges of supporting an ever expanding
    human population.
  • Expanding and shifting human uses of the system
    have made it very difficult to sustain healthy
    fisheries, high water quality, and balanced land
  • Today, Virginia is confronted with problems of
    accommodating expanding development, while
    preserving forests, farms, open spaces and
  • The search for optimal wetland protection will be
    never-ending in the face of growing populations,
    evolving technologies, and changing climate
  • The future of wetland protection in Virginia is
    bright, as the number of interested and informed
    policy-makers, managers, non-governmental
    interests, and private citizens continues to grow

Looking to the Future
  • In determining wetland protection needs of the
    future, we will face a difficult and likely never
    ending challenge due to population growth,
    improvements in technology, and climate change.
    The following concerns must be addressed as we
    strive to protect our wetlands
  • Improve and expand existing regulatory and
    non-regulatory county, state, and federal wetland
    protection programs
  • Collaborate and learn from other jurisdictions
    outside the coastal zone
  • Increase the involvement/education of local
  • Continually educate all citizens on the value of
  • Improve the Implementation of wetland protection
    program regulations set by county, state, and
    local governments
  • Maintain focus on maintaining and improving our


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