Article Index

Section 4.  Local Government Role in Wetland and Watershed Management


Once good comprehensive planning and wetland inventory is in place local governments have several options available to formally protect wetlands and watersheds.  Several are outlined below. When wetlands are regulated at the local level the ACOE  or the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation needn’t permit wetland projects unless they have already been approved locally. Local control over local resources and land values is retained.

According to the NYS Department of State Local Government Handbook, “With respect to freshwater wetlands, three regulatory possibilities are present:

1) All wetlands that are smaller than 12.4 acres and that are not deemed of ‘unusual importance,’ are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the municipalities where the wetlands are located (ECL §24-0507).

2) Under ECL, §24-0501, a local government may enact a Freshwater Wetlands Protection Law to fully assume jurisdiction over all freshwater wetlands within its jurisdiction from DEC, provided its law is no less protective of wetlands than Article 24 of the ECL and provided that DEC certifies that the municipality is capable of administering the Act. There is also a limited opportunity for counties to assume wetlands jurisdiction if the local government declines.

3) Under ECL, § 24-0509, local governments can now adopt freshwater wetland regulations applying to wetlands already mapped and under the jurisdiction of DEC, provided that the local regulations are more protective of wetlands than the state regulations in effect. No pre-certification by DEC is required.”

SEQRA, Wetlands, and Watersheds

An option that is available to all towns, villages and cities in NY is the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).  Communities can use the SEQRA process to protect important wetlands and other waters by identifying them as Critical Environmental Areas, or CEAs.  Under SEQRA, any Type I or Unlisted activities that might impact the environmental characteristics of a designated CEA are a relevent area of environmental concern and must be evaluated in the determination of significance prepared pursuant to Section 617.7 of this Part.

Wetlands on a site are a SEQRA concern in evaluating the significance of environmental impacts.  In order for the lead agency to determine whether the impacts to the wetlands are significant or not, they may wish to have a copy of any permit applications submitted to the ACOE or NYSDEC.  In making the determination of significance, the lead agency should review the type of permit application made to the ACOE and/or NYSDEC (is it a nationwide or individual permit); the type and area of wetlands being impacted (are they high quality or low quality); and the type and nature of compensatory wetland mitigation being proposed (is it in-kind or out-of-kind, does the mitigation replace lost functions and values and lost wetland acreage onsite or at another location). 

Local communities shouldn’t be concerned about making a determination of significance before the federal or state agency issues a wetland permit.  An Applicant cannot receive a wetlands permit from a federal or state agency without a determination of significance from the local municipality due to the Uniform Procedures Act [UPA]. Under the UPA, the NYSDEC cannot issue a determination of completeness on the wetlands permit application until the lead agency has either issued a negative declaration or has accepted a complete draft Environmental Impact Statement.  Given that most of the ACOE’s permits require a Section 401 Water Quality Certificate from the NYSDEC, the wetland regulatory review process is on hold until the lead agency makes the determination under SEQRA first.

Wetlands may also be indirectly regulated through subdivision and site plan review laws that can include wording on avoiding inappropriate building areas of a site, including wetlands.

Local Zoning
Another way that communities can protect wetlands and water quality is to create a Comprehensive or Master Plan.  Under this Plan a community may develop and adopt local regulations for storm water control; ordinances for sediment and erosion control; building and sanitary codes; floodplain regulation; timber harvesting guidelines or other vegetation removal standards. 

Monitoring Activities
Local governments have a vital role in monitoring activities near or in wetlands within their municipal boundaries and should have access to all related project plans and permit requirements to facilitate monitoring.  Monitoring project development periodically will increase compliance and provide additional influence over local wetland management.

For more information reference the enclosed materials or the resources listed below.




Relevant Websites:    

NYS Dept. of State Division of Local Government Services
Local Government Environmental Assistance Network
Wetlands Permit Info - Town of Yorktown Dept. of Building and Zoning
NYS Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials 
New York Planning Federation
The Association of Towns of the State of New York
National Association of Counties
Lincoln Land Institute: “A Methodology for Valuing 
                      Town Conservation Land”
Smart Growth Network
American Planning Association
EPA Programs and Research for Smart Growth
Open Space Model Ordinance. Center for Watershed Protection.