Introduction

Chapter 1 Why Protect Wetlands?

Chapter 2 The Agency

Chapter 3 Inland Wetlands and Watercourses-Regulated Areas

Chapter 4 Regulated Activities

Chapter 5 The Application

Chapter 6 Buffers

Chapter 7 Stormwater

Chapter 8 Before You Act!

Chapter 9 Inland Wetlands Deed Restrictions

Chapter 10 Conservation Easements

Chapter 11 Enforcement

Conclusion

Definitions

 

Introduction

 

In recent years, the Town of Branford has experienced growth in both commercial and residential development. Residents can dine, take in a movie, shop, hike, golf, and enjoy picturesque open space and water views without ever having to leave town.  But with these amenities come with a price.   The amount of buildable land in Branford has decreased dramatically, which means that development has been occurring in and around environmentally sensitive wetland areas which require proper planning to insure that our inland wetlands and watercourses (regulated areas) are protected.   Such development is regulated by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency of the Town of Branford.

Why Protect Wetlands?

 

The State of Connecticut has determined that “The inland wetlands and watercourses of the state of Connecticut are an indispensable and irreplaceable but fragile natural resource with which the citizens of the state have been endowed.”  (Connecticut General Statutes [CGS] 22a-36)  Since colonial times, 70% of the wetlands in Connecticut have been filled for agriculture, commercial, industrial, and residential uses. To ensure the future protection of the State’s inland wetlands and watercourses, the Connecticut State Legislature established the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act which, through the Connecticut General Statutes [CGS] 22a-36 through 22a-45d, requires that each municipality establish regulations and a commission to administer the regulations.  

 

As identified in the Act, wetlands are valuable natural resources for an abundance of reasons.  Some of these are obvious, such as providing wildlife habitat and aesthetic and recreational values.  Others may not be as obvious, such as the wetlands’ capacity to reduce flooding by retaining water during storms.  Wetlands also help to maintain ground and surface water levels and to protect water quality. Wetlands support delicate ecosystems, which include species from the smallest microscopic bacteria to large mammals.  It is the microscopic organisms that play a primary role in mitigating pollution of storm water and maintaining water quality. 

 

Wetlands and watercourses protect property value by guarding against flooding and erosion, and water pollution.  They maintain ground water levels, and help to prevent, by filtering of nutrients, eutrophication of ponds.

 

This is a eutrophic pond covered in algae. Eutrophication in fresh water is caused by high phosphorous levels. Phosphorous is a nutrient that enters the pond primarily by storm water that has picked up fertilizer and animal droppings from lawns and agriculture. Phosphorus encourages algae growth, which causes a decrease in oxygen levels. Mortality rates of animals and submergent plants rise dramatically when ponds are in a eutrophic state. A stagnant odor and a thick, green surface layer of algae are indicators of eutrophication of ponds.

 

The Agency

 

CGS 22a-42(c) required that each municipality establish an Inland Wetlands Agency or board to protect the wetlands and watercourses within its territorial limits.  The Town of Branford Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency was established in Chapter 109 of the Town Ordinance on January 9, 1974.  The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency of the Town of Branford consists of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and Town staff.  There are 7 regular and 3 alternate commissioners.  Staff includes a full time Enforcement Officer (duly authorized Agent) and part time assistant ( duly authorized agent). The Agency is responsible for administration of the Town of Branford Inland Wetlands Regulations.

 

Inland Wetlands and Watercourses – Regulated Areas

 

Wetlands and Watercourses are the Regulated Areas that fall under jurisdiction of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency. Per Connecticut General Statutes  wetlands are defined by their soils and classified as “poorly drained, very poorly drained, alluvial, and flood plain soils.” This method of classification by soils allows for the identification of wetlands during droughts or when other indicators such as standing water, wetland vegetation, or obligate wildlife species are absent. Tidal wetlands as identified in the  CGS and as determined in the field by the  DEP Office of Long Island Sound Programs [OLISP]  are excluded from Inland Wetland jurisdiction.  Watercourses are defined as “rivers, streams, brooks, waterways, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, bogs, and all other bodies of water, natural or artificial, vernal or intermittent, public or private, which are contained within, flow through, or border upon the Town of Branford.”  Tidal watercourses are not specifically excluded from the Agency’s jurisdiction unless they are also considered tidal wetlands.  When in doubt, OLISP must make the final determination as to jurisdiction related to tidal verses inland wetlands.

 

Regulated Activities

 

The Agency routinely exerts jurisdiction over regulated activities proposed within its established 100 foot upland review area of a wetland or watercourse.  It will take jurisdiction over activities that take place outside of the 100 foot review area if the activities are likely to impact a wetland or watercourse.  For example, most storm water discharged from properties within Branford eventually makes its way into regulated areas, so jurisdiction outside of the established 100 foot review area applies to any project which would result in alterations of storm water discharges from the site.  Also, the Commission will likely take jurisdiction over disturbances on steep slopes above wetlands whether activity is within 100 feet or not.

 

The Application

 

Applications for permit are generally reviewed in a public forum at regular meetings and voted upon by the commission.  Public hearings may be held for applications which meet certain statutory requirements as stated in CGS 22a-42a(c).  If an application poses only minor risk of impact to regulated areas, then the Agent may administratively approve the application.  (Download application form here) Applications must be submitted no later than the day before a meeting to be legally received at that meeting (legal “receipt” date).  The Commission is not permitted by law to make a decision until at least 14 days after receipt of an application in order to give Town residents the opportunity to submit a petition for a public hearing.

 

 

Buffers are areas of vegetated land that lie adjacent to wetlands and watercourses, protecting them from negative impacts.  The soils, grasses, shrubs, and trees that comprise the buffer provide the following:

 

  • minimization of erosion and sedimentation into water resources.  The root systems of plants and trees, as well as organic matter and rocks serve to keep the soils in place during storm events and help minimize erosion of soils.  Vegetated buffers also help to slow the water down, which reduces turbidity and suspended sediments.     

  • infiltration of surface run-off . When storm water run-off enters the ground, pollutants and contaminants are sequestered, then broken down chemically and biologically by microorganisms into less harmful substances.

  • shade. Trees and other vegetation help to maintain water temperatures necessary for habitat survival and optimum oxygen levels. Streamside vegetation also provides refuge for finfish.

  • flood prevention  Buffers allow infiltration of water into the ground which provides storage, and helps to keep surface and ground water levels stable.  

  • food and habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species. Insects that reside in the trees and other vegetation that comprise the buffer are a vital food source for fish, amphibians, birds, and reptiles.

  • ecological integrity Wetlands produce highly productive plant and animal communities. The more intact these systems are, the more diverse and valuable they become. Buffers help to keep wetland habitat productive, diverse, and safe from human encroachment.

  • protection against impacts. Development of adjacent land can have negative impacts that range from polluted runoff to  erosion, sedimentation, and dumping. Buffers between the water resource and development serve to protect wetlands from potential negative impacts that can destroy water quality and habitat.

 

Buffers are typical of the symbiotic workings of nature.  The interplay of the living organisms with their extended environment serves to maintain plant and animal diversity, habitat, and stability in hydrology.

 

Stormwater

 

When it rains, stormwater naturally travels downhill over land and through watercourses on its way to water bodies and wetlands.   It spreads out and infiltrates the ground along the way, which reduces flow velocities and allows the water to be taken up by plant root systems. Infiltration aids in the replenishment of ground water stores, and allows stormwater to be filtered and cooled before it reaches rivers, lakes, and wells. It also picks up organic matter which provides nutrients and replenishes necessary sediment levels in the wetlands and watercourses.

 

When storm water is not managed properly, it will run off parking lots, landscaped,  and lawn areas where it picks up oils, anti-freeze, gasoline, litter, sand, salt, fertilizers, pesticides, pet droppings and other pollutants.  Generally discharged into the municipal storm water system, this water is carried quickly to a few large outlets.  At the outlets, the run-off flows at volumes and velocities that can result in the excessive erosion of soils, particularly on slopes and within watercourses.  Eroded soils add to the pollution in the runoff.  When the flows reach a level area, usually a wetland, waterbody, or flood plain, the pollutants and sediments begin to settle out.  Excessive deposition of sediments and pollutants can destroy aquatic habitat, plant, and animal species.   Deposition, or “filling”, buries vegetation and amphibian eggs. Sedimentation can also alter stream channel flow by filling channels, and can cause flooding by removing valuable storage volume for flood waters. The pollutants accumulate and become toxic to native microorganisms, insects, plants, and animals, and can cause the death of many species. Suspended sediments that remain in the water column can clog respiratory and digestive tracts of aquatic animals causing injury and death.  Suspended sediments also reduce necessary light penetration to underwater aquatic plants.  Generally, under developed conditions, the water volumes are much larger than would naturally occur because they have not been retained and infiltrated. The excess storm water will seek the lowest areas to pool, whether it be wetland, pond, basement, parking lot, or nearby yard.

 

It is expensive and not particularly effective to “fix” these problems after the fact. That is why the Agency requires that storm water drainage management be designed into any proposed plans. It is generally recommended that, at minimum, the first flush (1 inch) of stormwater be retained and infiltrated on the site, no increase in peak flows occur, and water quality be maintained.  In some areas impacted by flooding, more aggressive management of storm water may be required in order that the existing hydrograph be maintained. 

 

Remember that storm drains do not carry stormwater to be treated in the sewage treatment plant. Storm drains discharge stormwater directly into our wetlands and watercourse so we should never put car wash water, used oil, pet droppings, chlorinated pool water, leaves or other foreign substances into the storm drains.

 

Before You Act

 

Wetland regulations apply to everyone.  Anyone planning to perform an activity which is in the vicinity of a wetland or watercourse should contact the Inland Wetland office at Town Hall, 203-315-5351 to find out if a permit is needed.  Remember, the existence of a wetland is not always obvious.  Wetlands can exist in lawns, on the sides of steep slopes, or on top of ridges.  Wetlands can be found anyplace where the ground water level remain close to the soil surface for extended periods of time.  The Agency reviews all applications submitted to the Building and Planning and Zoning departments.  If a wetland permit is required, the process can take a month or more, so it should be obtained as soon as possible.

 

Before buying a property,  it is best to find out if wetlands are located either on the property,  or close enough that activities will require a permit. Additionally, a history of permits issued for the site should be obtained.  A deed restriction may have been required by the Commission as part of a permit in order to maintain a natural vegetated buffer between wetlands and developed area.  If established, deed restrictions limit activities that can occur within that buffer. A conservation easement may have been granted to the Land Trust, the Town of Branford or another entity.  Conservation easements also limit activities than can be conducted. The Inland Wetlands Department, Town Clerk, Planning and Zoning, and Assessor’s Office can assist in obtaining this information.  Residents should also be aware that when violations occur and the health of the wetland is compromised, anyone found to be conducting regulated activities without a permit or violating conditions of an issued permit can face enforcement action in the form of a Cease and Correct Order and/or fines of up to $1000 per day.  (Enforcement)

 

Inland Wetland Deed Restrictions

Deed restrictions are language placed on the property deed which may prohibit or limit certain activities. The subject areas are generally negotiated during the application and permitting process and are included in the wetland approval as vegetated buffers designed to permanently protect the wetlands and watercourses from damage.  The language on the deed must be read very carefully in order to determine what activities are not permitted at all and what activities may be allowed if permitted by the Agency.   Protected areas may be required to be identified by signs or monuments.    

 

Conservation Easements

Similar to the deed restrictions, conservation easements apply to buffer areas negotiated during the permitting process. The difference is that the property rights to these conservation areas are granted to various entities such as Branford Land Trust, Town of Branford Conservation and Environment Commission, or State of Connecticut.  The language must be read very carefully to understand what property rights have been granted to others.

 

Enforcement

 

The Connecticut General Statutes (sec. 22a-44), The Inland Wetland and Watercourses Regulations of the Town of Branford, and Town Ordinance all provide a means for the Commission to fine those who operate or maintain regulated activities without a permit, or who conduct other activities which may impact a wetland or watercourse.  Refer to Section 14 of the Regulations

 

Conclusion

Inland wetlands and watercourses are an invaluable asset to our quality of life and to the preservation of thousands of species. We are all the trusted stewards of these extraordinary, wild areas.  The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency of the town of Branford, by careful review of each application, strives to preserve these areas for the benefit of all.   But one does not need to be a member of the Commission to help preserve the quality of our wetlands and watercourses. We can all make a difference.  If we have wetlands on our property, we can establish and maintain a natural area between our lawns and the wetland by planting only species native to Connecticut.  By limiting pesticide and chemical fertilizer use on our lawns, we can reduce or eliminate harmful contaminates from entering our rivers and streams.  By keeping up with maintenance on our cars, we can reduce the amount of toxic fluids carried into our wetlands by stormwater.  We can volunteer to pick up litter which would otherwise end up in a storm drain.   We can clean up after our pets and not discharge waste into our storm drains.  Above all we can help to educate others.  The Department of Inland Wetlands in the Branford Town Hall has information on how residents can help protect our wetlands and watercourses.  Together we can, as stated in the Connecticut General Statutes, “provide for the safety of such natural resources for their benefit, and for the benefit of generations yet unborn.”

 

  

Definitions

 

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