Waterfront Homeowner's Guide

You are the most important part of protecting Virginia's tidal wetlands.

Most of Virginia’s tidal shoreline is privately owned: one estimate says 85% of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline is in private hands.  Virginia’s nontidal wetlands are threatened by development pressure from private land owners.   Homeowners have a critical role to play in keeping Virginia’s wetlands healthy.  Some simple steps are outlined in this Homeowners Guide to Wetland Stewardship.  If everyone followed them, Virginia’s wetlands would be healthier and more productive. We have long worked to educate homeowners about these issues, starting in 2005 with our mailings to waterfront homeowners.

Homeowner's Guide

    Why Should I Care About Wetlands?

    Wetlands are the most productive slice of land in North America – they rival tropical rainforests in their richness and production.  If you are lucky enough to live near a wetland, you enjoy diverse wildlife, flood protection, cleaner water (wetlands remove nutrient pollution and many toxics), and a host of other benefits – all for free!

    How do I Care for Wetlands?

    The only thing you need to do in return for all the services wetlands provide is to be mindful of the wetlands and take some simple steps:

    • Know where your wetlands are – for most properties the wetlands are shown on individual property maps.  If you are uncertain, ask your local planning department.
    • Locate your buildings, pool decks, sheds, and land disturbing activity well away from the edge of the wetlands.  Runoff from these will harm wetlands.
    • Landscape around wetlands with native plants and non-invasive species.  Keep your lawn well back from the edge of the wetlands and let attractive native plants thrive – lists and sources for attractive foliage and flowering natives is in this guide.  Don’t mow the wetlands!
    • If you have to build or dig near the wetlands, get a permit.  For properties on tidal waters – along rivers and creeks – you have to check with regulators for anything you do 100 feet from the shoreline.

    What if I Have Waterfront Property?

    Those homeowners along the waterfront face additional pressures from shoreline erosion.  Dealing with erosion control is a major source of confusion for the homeowner and pressure on wetlands and the shoreline environment.  There are many alternatives to “hard” rock and bulkhead erosion control approaches – living shorelines are the preferred approaches where they are suited to the landscape.

    Also, if you are along the shoreline in a locality east of interstate 95, you have to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, a program designed to protect the shoreline buffers behind wetlands.  If you are within 100 feet of the shoreline, you will have to include this area in your planned shoreline activities.

    If you don’t own wetlands in your backyard, chances are there are wetlands near you.  You can adopt those wetlands and help out, using this guide.  Access the topics in the Homeowner's Guide using the menu on the left or above next to the picture.