The Need for Local Protection

Michigan’s wetlands protection law requires a permit to drain, dredge, fill, or construct or maintain use in a wetland, but it only applies to wetlands that are contiguous to waterbodies or waterways, or are over 5 acres in size. Yet, studies have found that smaller, isolated wetlands can provide as many ecological and water quality benefits as larger wetlands.
Also, it is difficult for State staff alone to monitor all the activities that can occur in wetlands throughout the entire State.

Local communities can enact ordinances that protect smaller, isolated wetlands and provide local oversight over development activities that impact wetlands.

Vegetative Buffers. One of the most effective wetland management practices is to establish a vegetative buffer, or “greenbelt,” around the perimeter – a strip of upland that surrounds the wetland and is maintained in a natural vegetative state. On land where the natural vegetation has been removed, establishing the buffer involves planting trees, shrubs, and ground cover. It also requires eliminating the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and only the most selective cutting or removal of vegetation. The buffer vegetation takes up excess nutrients and pollutants, slows the velocity of overland water flow, prevents erosion, promotes seepage into the soil, and helps to reduce the “flashy” nature of urban runoff.

Septic Systems. Septic systems are a major source of pollutants for wetlands. If the area over the septic drain field is wet or especially green, or if there is a smell of sewage during rainy periods, then the septic system is not operating properly. Seepage from the system may be polluting nearby areas, including a wetland. Septic systems should be pumped and inspected every two to three years, and annually if there is a garbage disposal in use. Property owners should commit to upgrading the system when necessary, and to water conservation practices (e.g. low-flow toilets and shower heads) that can extend the life of the system.

Fertilizers and Pesticides. Reducing or eliminating the use of fertilizers and pesticides is an effective means of reducing wetland pollution. Many property owners use fertilizers when, in fact, there is no need. If soil testing indicates the need for fertilizer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and never apply more than is recommended. There are many safe alternatives to both chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Composted kitchen and yard wastes organically enrich soils, insect predators naturally prey on insect pests in the garden, and organic pesticide formulations provide a non-toxic alternative in the home.

A Model Ordinance

To help local governments to enact their own ordinances to supplement the State program, the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), with funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, has developed a model wetlands ordinance that is consistent with the State law. The ordinance will provide local governments with a legally sound tool to protect their wetlands and property owners with consistent, predictable treatment throughout the State.
» Protecting Your Community’s Wetlands, HRWC’s wetland ordinance brochure dated September 2006
»Frequently Asked Questions About Wetlands Ordinances , factsheet dated September 2006
» MDEQ Model Wetlands Ordinance, dated March 2003
»Notes Regarding the MDEQ Model Wetlands Ordinance, prepared April 2006
» Legal Cases Related to Wetlands in Michigan, dated March 2002
»Natural Features Setback Ordinance, passed August 1998. HRWC highly recommends that communities enact a natural features setback ordinance along with a wetland ordinance.