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Wetlands Overview

You may be doing research on wetland ecology or trying to determine the rules of wetland compliance on your farm. Either way, NRCS's technical experts have you covered. Please see below for general information about wetlands, or visit our national website. For more information on compliance, please visit our wetlands compliance page.

What is a Wetland?

Wetland Definition:


Wetlands do so many things — not only for us, but also for plants, animals, and the land.

We need to understand the functions and values of wetlands. We need to work hard to ensure that wetlands are maintained so that they can continue to help us live in harmony with the land and our natural resources. What makes this harmony so important? Let's find out by discovering...

  • Established definition and criteria used by government and scientists
  • Corps Delineation Manual most widely used guidance
  • Wetland Definition was reviewed and confirmed by National Academy of Sciences in mid 1990s

Wetland Criteria

  • Water -flooded or saturated during growing season
  • Soils -soils that indicate wet conditions
  • Plants -plants that typically grow in wetlands


  • Flooded, ponded or saturated
  • Extended period during the growing season
  • Biological growing season, not agronomic
  • Soils can still be saturated with a water table 1 foot or more below the surface


  • Must show signs of being a wetland (hydric) soil
    • Mottling
    • Color
    • deep organic layer
  • Very specific criteria must be used to determine if soil is hydric


  • Must be plants typically found in wetlands
  • All plants have been assigned an indicator status
  • Look to see if majority are wetland plants

Disturbed Situations

  • Make wetland determinations more difficult
  • May have to rely on just one or two of the wetland criteria, usually soils
  • May end up with a larger area determined as wetland


  • NRCS can provide this service to USDA program participants
  • Use specific criteria to determine if an area is wetland
  • Does not have to have standing water to be a wetland
  • Always best to have determinations conducted prior to manipulating