New amendments to Michigan’s wetlands legislation

New amendments to Michigan’s wetlands legislation keep state in forefront of wetland and water quality protection.

What do swamps, bogs, fens and marshes all have in common? They are all types of wetlands. Often, wetlands are the transition zones between upland and deep-water environments. They may be coastal areas or inland areas. Wetlands are a landform with three specific characteristics: water, hydric soils and hydrophytic vegetation.

Hydric soils: These soils remain saturated during the growing season for enough time to create an anaerobic (without oxygen) state in the soil. This low oxygen characteristic determines and limits the types of plants that can survive there.

Hydrophytic plants: These types of plants have adapted to live in a low-oxygen environment. They have developed alternative methods of survival, such as oxygen-transporting tubes (emergent needs), the ability to float on shallow waters, like lilies, or buttressed trunks such as cypress trees.

Hydrologic regime: The presence of water is the defining characteristic that determines if an area is a wetland. If the ground stays saturated for a long enough period of time, it forms saturated soil conditions. This results in the development of hydric soils and the presence of hydrophytic plants. However, while water is the defining condition that determines a wetlands area, water is not always easy to find in wetlands.

Wetlands delineation is the process of determining where a wetland starts and ends. The three characteristics above are the indicators used to determine the area but the actual determination is difficult due to constantly changing conditions in each wetland.

Important functions of wetlands include the physical, chemical, biological and socioeconomic. Physical functions include flood control, coastal protection, groundwater recharge and sediment traps. Chemical functions include pollution collection and filtering and wastewater treatment. Biological functions include production of organic material and habitat for plants, animals and birds. Socioeconomic functions include food production, such as rice and cranberries, commercial fisheries and timber harvesting, fuel production and recreational and educational activities.

Based on its history of a strong protection program, Michigan is only one of two states that is allowed to self-regulate its wetlands rather than have EPA oversight under the federal Clean Water Act. A major benefit of self-regulation is the protection of nearly 900,000 acres that would not be protected under federal regulation.

In June, 2013, Senate Bill 0163 was passed by both the Michigan Senate and House to amend current state law, PA 451 of 1994, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, to comply with EPA requirements. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.

The amendments to Parts 301 and 303 of PA 451 include:

  • Limiting the DEQ’s powers and functions to pertain solely to “navigable waters” and “waters of the U.S.” unless granted by the state legislature
  • Clarifying agriculture and drain activities that need a permit
  • Expanding exemptions for specific ongoing agricultural operations
  • Changing DEQ’s process for determining potential alternatives available when permitting new wetlands activity
  • Changing the process which requires compensatory wetlands mitigation and the establishment of a wetlands mitigation bank funding program
  • Requiring the DEQ to develop a blueberry production assistance program and establish permit requirements; and altering fees in minor project category and general permit categories

To view the entire bill, go to:

Visit the Michigan State University Extension bookstore at and search “wetlands” for additional information.

Additionally, has information regarding Michigan wetlands, permits and current regulations and permit procedures.

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