Data requests may be made to Carol Murphy, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, carol.murphy

Scientific Evidence for New Wetland Regulation Strategy

In 2013, a Legislative Task Force on wetland buffers—undisturbed areas next to wetlands that protect the quality of the wetland—and setbacks—minimum distance that activities like development and septic systems must be from wetlands—was created by the RI General Assembly to recommend requirements for wetland buffers and setbacks in the state. Recommendations were based on the best available freshwater wetland science and with input from stakeholders including local businesses. Data collected through the freshwater wetland monitoring program contributed to the Task Force review of wetland science. Data analysis confirmed correlations between poorer wetland condition and greater disturbance in the lands surrounding the wetland.

The Task Force issued a final report in December 2014, which made several recommendations relative to the appropriate size of buffers and setbacks, uniformity across the state, clarity of terms used in the regulations, and funding for enforcement. Legislation that implemented those recommendations passed in 2015, backed by both professional organizations and environmentalists. The new law places responsibility for setting buffer and setback regulations with RIDEM. Previously, municipalities could establish their own individual setback distances. Under the current law, RIDEM has the power to regulate areas within 200 feet of the edge of a river, stream, or drinking water supply reservoir and areas within 100 feet of “all other freshwater wetlands.” The new law also explicitly includes vernal pools (seasonal ponds well-known for providing excellent amphibian habitat) in its definition of freshwater wetlands.