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Skip Navigation LinksDNREC : Division of Water : Information : FAQs : Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands FAQs


Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Help! I think I need a permit!

Answer: Find information, applications forms, fee schedules, guidance documents and everything you need to determine whether you need a permit and how to get through the permitting process here.

More FAQs from Wetlands:

Q. Are there wetlands on my property? How can I tell? And if there are, what does that mean for me?

A. The State of Delaware and the federal government both have laws and regulations that govern wetlands, but they use different methods for determining the location and extent of the wetlands they regulate. To determine if you have State-regulated wetlands on your property, you should contact DNREC’s Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section (WSLS) and provide the “contact person of the day” with a detailed description of your property location. The wetlands regulated under Delaware’s Wetlands Act are depicted on jurisdictional maps maintained at the WSLS office in Dover. (State-Regulated Wetland Map Index)

Under most circumstances, the contact person of the day at the WSLS can determine if State- regulated wetlands exist on your property by referring to those official regulatory maps. Sometimes a site visit by a staff scientist from the WSLS may be necessary to more accurately locate the boundary between uplands and wetlands on a particular parcel. 

To determine if you may have federally regulated wetlands on your property, a detailed onsite investigation is typically required. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires that wetlands regulated under their program be delineated by a wetland scientist knowledgeable in using the Corps’ delineation manual. Deineation requires a detailed evaluation of soils, hydrology and plants to determine the presence of a regulated wetland. Environmental consultants who can perform a wetland delineation using the Corps methodology are listed on the WSLS Consultants List. To obtain a copy of this list, contact the WSLS at 302/739-9943. For more detailed information regarding the federal regulatory programs for wetlands and waters call the Philadelphia District of the Army Corps of Engineers, Regulator of the Day, at (215) 656-6728, or visit the Corps’ web site.

If you determine that there are wetlands on your property, it means that you may need a permit from DNREC and/or the Army Corps of Engineers if you are proposing any construction or landscape modification activity that might encroach upon the wetlands. County governments may also have certain setback requirements from wetlands for the placement of structures. Be sure to contact DNREC and the Corps to discuss your plans for such activities as early as possible in the planning process.

But, you should also count yourself lucky!  Wetlands contain wonderful wildlife habitat and function as important water quality, groundwater recharge and flood storage areas.

Q. I'm having an erosion problem. My shoreline is eroding and I'd like to protect it. What is the best technique to use and how do I get the necessary permits and find a contractor who can do the work?This photo depicts the preferred shoreline stabilization method with vegetation and minimal stone or rock.

A. First let's address what shoreline erosion is, and what causes it. Coastlines are environments of constant change and the movement of sediment is a natural process. Beaches change seasonally as changing weather patterns move sand between the beach and offshore sandbars. Sediments also move parallel to the shoreline with the currents. Shoreline erosion is the sustained loss of sediments along the water's edge resulting in the landward displacement of the shoreline.This can be caused by a number of anthropogenic and natural factors including wind wave action, boat wakes, tidal currents and drainage. Humans can accelerate erosion by cutting off the flow of sediments feeding a shoreline by constructing dams, groins, and other structures, by removing or mowing protective wetlands and vegetative buffers, by channeling storm drainage onto the shore, or by increasing wave activity with boat wakes. 

So what can be done to protect the shoreline? Shoreline erosion can be a serious problem for homeowners with both environmental and financial consequences. Homeowners can reduce impacts to their property and adjacent properties by not mowing vegetation along the shoreline, minimizing their boat wakes and ensuring that run-off from roofs and driveways does not run directly onto the shore. If these measures are not sufficient to stop an erosion problem, the homeowner can apply for permit to stabilize the shoreline. 

Shoreline protection can come in the form of non-structural alternatives such as vegetative stabilization using appropriate plantings or plants imbedded in “biologs” which help to protect the vegetation until it becomes established, hybrid projects such as stone sills with vegetation planted behind them, or structural options such as stone riprap revetments or bulkheads, all of which require permits for construction. When choosing an appropriate method of stabilizing the shoreline, first consider several factors including the severity of erosion, shoreline location, the amount of wave energy, water depth, fetch, and grade of the shoreline. The Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section discourages the construction of new bulkheads since they reflect wave activity rather than diffuse it, which can exacerbate erosion problems on adjacent shorelines.Banks hardened with rock or bulkheads cause erosion on adjacent unprotected shorelines Bulkheads also create greater disturbance and loss of adjacent shallow water habitats. In addition, the materials used to construct bulkheads often contain wood preservatives which have been found to be harmful in the marine environment. 

The Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section recommends homeowners first consider non-structural alternatives such as vegetative stabilization, wetland restoration or “biologs” to solve their erosion problems. Non-structural alternatives provide many benefits like reducing wave energy, filtering pollutants and sediments from run-off and providing near shore habitat.  Non-structural methods are also usually less expensive and provide attractive natural scenery. If the wave energy is too high on the shoreline, the vegetation can be reinforced with a “marsh toe” stone sill, or a breakwater can be installed. In areas where the use of vegetation is not be appropriate, shoreline hardening techniques like the construction of rip-rap revetments can be used.  If it is determined that no other designs are viable, then vinyl bulkheads with rip-rap are accepted. New bulkheads are rarely permitted on natural water bodies. Professional engineers, environmental consultants and marine contractors can assist with designing a shoreline stabilization project that can appropriately solve your erosion problems. Or feel free to contact the Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section and request a site visit to get advice about the method of shoreline stabilization that would be most appropriate for your shoreline and most likely to receive permit approval.

Q. How do I report a suspected wetlands violation? Say someone is filling in wetlands? Or dumping in a stream?

A. If you notice any activity that appears inappropriate and wish to report it, please be prepared to provide as much of the following information as you can before calling:

  • What kind of activity is taking place? (i.e. Filling? Digging? Construction? Cutting trees?) 
  • What is the date and time when you first observed the activity?
  • Who is doing the work?  Is it the property owner? A contractor? If so, can you disclose the name of the company?
  • Is the activity taking place in vegetated wetlands? Or is it in a tidal waterbody, or a stream, ditch, pond, or lake? If in a water, do you know the name of the waterbody or the nearest waterbody to the site?
  • Where is the property located? (Provide the county and nearest town or city, road names and/or numbers, landmarks, and the tax parcel number, if known).
  • Have you contacted any other government agencies? (County, City, or Federal)

Once you have as much of this information as you can gather, call the Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section at (302) 739-9943 or DNREC’s complaint hotline (especially at night or on weekends) at 1-800-662-8802 to file an official complaint. Please provide your name and a phone number to be reached for follow-up questions and to be able to update you on actions taken. Also note: All calls are considered confidential.


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