What is a Wetlands?

Wetlands are lands that are flooded or saturated at or near the ground surface for varying periods of time during the year. Water comes from rainfall, snowmelt, river overflow, ocean-driven tides, rising lake levels, or ground water coming from beneath the soil surface. There are many wetland definitions - some are technical definitions used by scientists to describe and inventory wetlands, while other are regulatory definitions that define lands covered by government regulations and zoning ordinances.

Three criteria define a wetlands:

1) Hydrophytic Vegetation?

Plants adapted to life in water or in waterlogged substrates are called hydrophytes. They tend to be more water-tolerant than "water loving". Prolonged saturation creates oxygen-deficient substrantes in just a few days. Since all plants require oxygen for survival and growth, only plants with special adaptations or colonization strategies can live and reproduce under these circumstances. Out of all the vascular plants that grow in the U.S., only a third can tolerate the wetness conditions associated with most wetlands.

2/3) Hydric Soil & Hydrologic Conditions

Frequently flooded and/or waterlogged soils associated with wetlands are called hydric soils, while lake and river bottoms have hydric substrates (since they don't support free-standing vegetation). Technically, any soil that is inundated (covered by water) for two weeks or more during the growing season in most years is considered a hydric soil. Most hydric soils have distinct properties that help separate them from better driained soils of uplands (drylands). These properties include thick organic deposits in the upper part of the soil (anaerobic conditions slow down oxidation of organic matter), grayish subsoils (due to lack of iron oxides), mottled soils (grayish subsoil with orangish, yellowish, or reddish mottles, reflecting a fluctuating water table, but prolonged saturation), a rotten egg odor coming from the upper part of the soil (hydrogen sulfide from organic matter decomposition), black sands (due to heavy organic coatings - muck - of sand grains), and blotchy sandy soils (with organic streaking or variable coloring of the sand due to differences in the amount of organic coatins of sand grains).