Wetlands are not just puddles or “low spots with some cattails.” They serve a vital role in the environment; flood control, pollution filtering and habitat for wildlife, to name just a few.

In order to be considered a wetland, all three of the following criteria must be present:

Photo courtesy of Nathan Herbert/TNC
  • A dominance of wetland vegetation
  • The presence of soils exhibiting hydric characteristics
  • Indicators of hydrology (the presence of surface water or waterlogged soils) for a sufficient period of time in most years to influence the types of plants and soils that occur in that area


I recently ran into someone who was conflicted about SB 389, the bill that proposes the removal of  protections for state regulated wetlands.  She was thinking about it from the standpoint of being a landowner and an advocate for promoting new business in our area.  I know her to be very pro community and pro Lake Maxinkuckee, so I could see her dilemma.  Having a small wetland on your property can mean thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in wetland mitigation when trying to bring that land into production for growing crops or for new development. 

Wetlands are either considered to be “federally jurisdictional” or “isolated.”

Federally jurisdictional wetlands are wetlands that abut, or are adjacent to, a federally regulated stream, lake, river, or other Water of the U.S.  These wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act. The three wetlands that help protect Lake Maxinkuckee fall into this category and, therefore, are federally protected.

Isolated wetlands, loosely defined, are wetlands that do not abut, or are not adjacent to, a federally regulated stream, lake, river or other Water of the US.  They are not subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act and therefore, are not federally protected.  In the early 2000s, with bipartisan support, Indiana’s legislators created the state’s regulated wetlands law to protect these wetlands.  Senate Bill 389 would remove those protections. 

No Net Loss

Indiana’s law does not prohibit developers from building in an area with a wetland but requires them to apply for a permit from the state to be able to do so. With the permit, builders must also mitigate the wetland they are potentially damaging with their development. They can either create a replacement wetland elsewhere or pay into a program run by the Department of Natural Resources to do that work and maintain the wetland for them. This program was created to make wetland mitigation easier for the developer.   

Wetland Mitigation:

the restoration, creation or enhancement of wetlands for the purpose of compensating for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location.

Conservation vs Development/Agriculture

In general, when conservationists think of wetlands, they see wildlife, vegetation, habitat, nutrient filtering, and flood control.  When developers and farmers think of wetlands, they see increased costs, red tape, regulations, government bureaucracy and delays.  Both sides are correct so Is it any wonder we can’t agree on a path forward?

How can we, as citizens and as a community, support wetland protection while at the same time support affordable housing, agriculture and new development that could bring jobs to the area? 

This is a complex problem without a simple solution.  To strike down all protections of isolated wetlands makes development cheaper but brings significant environmental impacts.  At the very least, wetland protection is an important enough issue to warrant further discussion and study in a summer session rather than a repeal of all state protections.

SB 389 has passed the Senate will now head to the Indiana House of Representatives for its first reading.

Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Fund opposes SB 389. Thank you to all who contacted your state Senator prior to the Senate vote.  Now it is time to contact your Representative in the House, your local officials and the Governor to voice your opposition to removing isolated wetland protection.

To find your legislator’s information, visit here.