What is a Wetland?


            Wetlands typically have three general characteristics: soggy soils, water-loving plants and water. Scientists call these:  hydric soils, hydrophytic vegetation, and wetland hydrology.  Hydric soils are saturated with water much of the time so are low in oxygen.  This converts iron and other elements to a form that gives the soil a grey color.  Sometimes these soils have a high organic content due to the slower breakdown of organic material while wet.  For a technical description of hydric soils, see the hydric soils information page.  Hydrophytic vegetation is a term that describes plants that require saturated soils or a high water table to survive. Hydrophytic vegetation can be seen at these websites: Revegetation For Riverbank Stabilization on the Upper Clark Fork River, and   Western Wetland Flora.  Wetland hydrology refers to a high water table (at or near the surface of the ground).  There are very specific legal definitions of what qualifies as wetland hydrology.  For an area to function as a wetland, it only needs to exhibit one of these three characteristics.  However, for an area to be considered a wetland legally, it may have to exhibit all three.  Such wetlands are called jurisdictional wetlands and are protected under the Clean Water Act.       

Visit the EPA Office of Water web page for more information.