Wetlands 101: A property-buyers guide

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – June 5, 2012 – If a dream property includes wetlands, buyers may have to work with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and, in some cases, the local water management district if they want to build or make changes.

Wetlands are considered valuable natural resources that need extra protection by the DEP and are subject to special Florida laws. In many cases, federal and local laws could also apply.

According to DEP, wetlands:
• Filter nutrients and other pollutants to help keep surface water clean for drinking, swimming and fishing.
• Serve as home, nursery, training grounds and food source for many species, including humans.
• Support commercial fishing, tourism and recreation.
• Intercept water from heavy rains that could flood upland areas.
• Protect property from erosion.
• Collect and filter water, allowing it to recharge drinking water supplies.

“When people think of wetlands, many envision swamps or marshes with standing water. While those are indeed two types of wetlands, there are many other types of wetlands that may not be as easily identified,” says Cherie Graves with DEP. “Many wetlands rarely have standing water.”

Besides the obvious signs – like your shoes getting wet when you walk there – it’s a good idea to use an environmental professional who uses plants, soils and hydrology to identify wetlands. A wetland determination can help clients choose the best site on a property to build a home.

For more information, property owners can contact their local DEP district office. Private environmental consultants also provide similar services.

Once a property is determined to contain wetlands, owners may need a special permit to build a single-family home or other structure. For example, if plans include filling for a house pad, septic tank drain field, driveway or lawn on wetlands, an owner needs an environmental resource permit from DEP. Removing tree stumps or dredging a ditch to drain the property in wetlands also requires a permit.

However, if only a small portion of the property is wetland and an owner builds entirely on an upland portion of the property, he might not need an environmental resource permit at all.

If potential homebuyers have questions, they can call DEP directly. Graves says staff will look at the property and suggest options. To make the permitting process flow as quickly as possible, property owners can schedule a pre-application meeting with DEP to discuss the project before applying.

Even if they buy a property with wetlands, your clients can still build their dream home in an enchanted place. However, they may need to adjust their plans to accommodate the ebb and flow of the environment on which we all depend.

To find a local DEP office, visit their website.

Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Cherie Graves

Reprinted with permission. © 2012 Florida Realtors®

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