The Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) was first passed in 1991. Rules were promulgated by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR). The WCA mandates that wetlands must not be drained or filled unless (a) drain or fill activity is exempt or (b) wetlands are replaced by restoring or creating wetland areas of at least equal public value. The goal is no net loss of wetlands.
A wetland is defined by the presence of (a) hydric (developed under wet conditions) soils, (b) surface or subsurface hydrology (properties and distribution of water) , and (c) hydrophytic (affinity for water) vegetation. The Wetland Conservation Act applies to all Minnesota wetlands, except those identified on the DNR inventory of protected waters and wetlands. These wetlands are regulated by the DNR.
The local government unit (LGU) has the primarily responsibility for administration of the WCA and for making key determinations. Generally, the LGU is a city or county.
If an activity is not exempt, impacted wetlands must be replaced under a replacement plan approved by the LGU. The replacement plan must demonstrate compliance with “sequencing,” i.e., (a) that wetland impacts are avoided as much as possible, (b) that to the extent that the impacts cannot be avoided, the wetland impacts are minimized, and (c) that unavoidably impacted wetlands are replaced as required by the WCA Rules. The Rules include numerous specific requirements as to location, size, type, etc. of replacement wetlands. The WCA allows wetland losses from drain or fill activities to be replaced by wetlands previously restored or created and deposited into the state wetland bank. The banked wetlands can only be used if the result is a no-net-loss in the quantity, quality, and biological diversity of Minnesota’s existing wetlands. Wetland bank “accounts” must always maintain a positive balance.
DNR Conservation Officers and other Peace Officers may issue cease and desist, restoration, and replacement orders for violations of the WCA. Violation of an order is a misdemeanor. Criminal prosecution of violations under the WCA is pursued by county attorneys.
Information Specific to St. Louis County, Minnesota
St. Louis County has adopted a Comprehensive Wetland Protection and Management Plan for St. Louis County, Minnesota. This plan provides a local approach to the wetland regulation, and serves as a “road map” for wetland action in St. Louis County. This plan is in force where St. Louis County has primary zoning authority.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also regulates many wetland alteration activities in Minnesota under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – St. Paul District Regulatory Programs for more information .