Vol. 20 No. 6 July 19, 2012

New Regional Supplement to COE Wetland
Delineation Manual Required


On June 27, 2012, the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) announced via Public Notice the regional supplement to the COE Wetland Delineation Manual: Eastern Mountains and Piedmont, Version 2.0. This new supplement is to be used for all new wetland delineations in these physiographic regions of Virginia, as well as the Mid-Atlantic region, and finalizes the use of methodologies that increase the extent of the Jurisdictional Wetlands in some situations – especially floodplains and red parent soils.

The announcement follows the publication of Version 2.0 of the Regional Supplement in April 2012. Delineations in the Piedmont and Mountain regions of Virginia (generally areas west of I-95) have been required to use the interim version of the supplement since October, 2010, when it was announced as part of a one-year trial period (See Field Notes vol 18, No 9). Only minor changes have been made to the document with the publication of Version 2.0. The Public Notice indicates that the changes are primarily for clarity, to improve consistency with other regional manuals and to update weblinks. In addition, information on soil indicators has been updated to be consistent with the latest version of the National Technical Committee for Hydric Soils field indicators and soil indicator TF2 (a test indicator for red parent material soils) has been replaced with indicator F21.

The original Public Notice implementing the supplement noted that it was not intended to increase jurisdictional areas, though many of the changes can only result in it being easier for an area to meet the criteria to be delineated as a wetland – thus, potentially expanding the areas of COE jurisdiction. For example, there are many more field indicators of hydrology and the hydric soil indicators include higher chroma soils in floodplain areas, as well as other modifications and clarifications of hydric soil indicators. Additionally, the vegetation parameter now has several different approaches that need to be employed to determine if hydrophytic vegetation is present. If the dominance test1 does not indicate that hydrophytic vegetation is present but there are positive indicators of hydric soil and wetland hydrology, then one must use the Prevalence Index and examine the vegetation for morphological adaptations that would allow vegetation to be growing in a wetland. In essence, if there are hydric soils and evidence of wetland hydrology, one must prove that hydrophytic vegetation is not present.

Further, while the recent announcement of the 2012 National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) generated a strong reaction to the reclassification of a number of species from non-wetland to hydrophytic plants (see Field Notes Vol 20, No 5), in fact, the regional supplements require that the + and – modifiers be dropped. Thus, species such as Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japanica) and Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), which were classified in the 1988 Plant List as FAC- and did not count as hydrophytic species, were being considered wetland plants under the supplement, even before the 2012 NWPL was released.

As expected with the publication of the interim supplement in 2010 and as we have noted in previous articles, we are already seeing an increase in the land area meeting the definition of a wetland. This will increase the land area subject to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Virginia Water Protection Program and as Resource Protection Area (RPA) components under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

Both the implementation of the supplements and the 2012 NWPL are clearly decisions with implications that are only now being realized by the regulated public. National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) representatives recently met with COE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff to voice their concerns. In addition, Meg Gaffney-Smith, Chief of COE Regulatory Branch, indicated to NAHB that the COE is interested in determining the impact of the 2012 NWPL on wetland delineations. The Public Notice for the supplement notes that the COE will continue to accept comments and suggestions on the supplement. Therefore, it would appear that now is the time to speak up if those in the regulated community have specific concerns with either the delineation methodology or the 2012 NWPL.

For more information on the regional supplements to the COE Wetland Delineation Manual or the 2012 NWPL, contact Mark Headly, Jennifer Van Houten, Jennifer Feese, Ben Rosner or Mike Rolband.


1This is essentially the same as the vegetation test used in the '87 manual prior to the supplement.