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Why do wetlands matter for rivers?

Wetlands are perhaps the most diverse and life-abundant areas in a river system. When functioning properly, wetlands provide important habitat to many species, flood storage in times of heavy precipitation, and buffer high flows moving downstream. They are also able to settle contaminants in the water and act as natural filtration systems.

The Neponset River Watershed Association recognized the significance of its saltwater wetlands and undertook two restoration projects. The area has a long history of industrial development and its wetlands were either completely lost or severely degraded. With multiple partners, NepRWA has been able to restore these resources and bring back important habitat. Read more about NepRWA's success.


Wetland Regulation Strategies to protect wetlands are multi-tiered and include federal, state and local governments working together. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes the federal authority to regulate ‘waters of the U.S.’ and creates a permitting program to control dredge and/or fill activities in a wetland. It is administered by the Army Corps of Engineers in cooperation with EPA.


The Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act reached beyond the federal requirements and created a program that identifies wetland resources and the protections afforded to them. For each municipality, the local conservation commission implements provisions of the Act by ensuring that wetland activities protect public and private water supply, groundwater supply, land containing shellfish, wildlife habitat, flood control, storm damage prevention, prevention of pollution, and fisheries. The Massachusetts Rivers Protection Act protects nearly 9,000 miles of Massachusetts riverbanks – helping keep water clean, preserving wildlife habitat, and controlling flooding. The law creates a 200-foot riverfront area that extends on both sides of rivers and streams. In certain urban areas, the riverfront area is 25 feet. The law did not create a new permitting process, but rather built on the strength of existing procedures under the Wetlands Protection Act. The local conservation commission or the state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) reviews projects to ensure that the riverfront area is protected for the eight interests in the Wetlands Act. The law also establishes the policy of the state to protect the natural integrity of rivers and to encourage and establish open space along rivers. Find more information here:


Municipal Conservation Commissions, a Massachusetts innovation, were created by a 1957 act of the state legislature, enabling towns to establish them by a vote of the local legislative body. The Wetland Protection Act, enacted in 1972, significantly increased the responsibilities of the commissions and requires a more advanced level of expertise than commissioners had needed previously. The Berkshire Environmental Action Team has compiled a thorough explanation of the wetland protection regulatory history as well as current framework in Massachusetts. For more information, check these links: The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions also has a wealth of information about the Wetland Protection Act, including model bylaws for communities wishing to strengthen their wetland protection, and a guidebook (available for purchase):