A Guide to the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act (WCA) is a crucial piece of legislation that aims to protect and preserve the state's valuable wetland resources. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of the WCA, providing a clear understanding of its applicability, key provisions, and compliance obligations. By exploring the regulated activities and entities, as well as the structure and enforcement mechanisms of the WCA, readers will gain the knowledge necessary to navigate the complexities of wetland conservation in Minnesota. The guide also highlights recent developments and the regulatory outlook, offering insights into the evolving landscape of wetland protection. With a focus on practical information and actionable insights, this resource serves as an essential tool for effectively managing projects while ensuring compliance with the WCA and promoting the conservation of Minnesota's irreplaceable wetland ecosystems.


Key Details of the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act

  • Issuing Agency: The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)
  • Year Established: 1991
  • Last Amended: 2015
  • Statutory Authority: The Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act of 1991
  • Primary Legal Reference: Minnesota Statutes, sections 103G.222 to 103G.2372

Overview of the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act (WCA) operates within the broader framework of state and federal wetland protection regulations. It complements the federal Clean Water Act's Section 404 program, which regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands.1 The WCA aims to achieve no net loss of wetlands in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) is the primary state agency responsible for administering the WCA, with support from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and local government units (LGUs) such as counties, cities, and watershed districts. The WCA was enacted in 1991 and has undergone several amendments, most recently in 2015, to improve its effectiveness and streamline the permitting process.

The WCA achieves its goals by requiring project proponents to follow a three-step process: avoid wetland impacts where possible, minimize unavoidable impacts, and replace any lost wetland functions and values through restoration, creation, or preservation of other wetlands. The Act applies statewide, with some exemptions for certain agricultural activities, utility projects, and small wetland impacts.

What does the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act protect?

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act protects wetlands, which are defined as "lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water." Wetlands protected under the WCA include, but are not limited to, swamps, marshes, bogs, fens, and wet meadows. The Act protects these wetlands from draining, filling, excavating, or otherwise altering their hydrology, vegetation, or soil characteristics without proper authorization and mitigation. By requiring avoidance, minimization, and replacement of impacted wetlands, the WCA helps maintain the essential functions and values provided by these ecosystems, such as water quality improvement, flood token, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities.


Regulated Activities & Entities

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act (WCA) is a state law that aims to protect and conserve Minnesota's wetlands by regulating activities that can impact these valuable ecosystems. The WCA applies to a wide range of entities, including private landowners, businesses, and government agencies, who engage in activities that may drain, fill, or otherwise alter wetlands.

The WCA regulates various industries and processes that have the potential to harm wetlands, such as:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction and development
  • Mining
  • Road building
  • Utilities installation

Under the WCA, the following activities are prohibited without proper authorization:

  1. Draining wetlands: Removing water from a wetland through ditching, tiling, pumping, or other means is prohibited, as it can destroy the wetland ecosystem and its associated benefits.
  2. Filling wetlands: Depositing soil, sand, gravel, or other materials into a wetland, which can smother vegetation, alter hydrology, and degrade water quality, is not allowed.
  3. Excavating wetlands: Removing soil or vegetation from a wetland can disrupt its ecological functions and is generally prohibited.
  4. Constructing in wetlands: Building structures, roads, or utilities in wetlands without proper permits and mitigation can damage these sensitive areas and is not permitted.

These prohibitions are in place to protect the numerous environmental benefits provided by wetlands, such as:

  • Flood control
  • Water quality improvement
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Carbon sequestration

Structure and Key Provisions

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act is structured into several key sections that outline definitions, prohibitions, permitting requirements, and enforcement provisions. Some of the most important sections include:

Section 103G.005 - Definitions

This section provides legal definitions for terms used throughout the WCA, such as "wetland," "public waters," and "drainage." Understanding these definitions is crucial for determining the applicability of the law to a specific project or activity.

Section 103G.222 - Replacement of Wetlands

This section establishes the requirement for replacing wetlands that are impacted by regulated activities. It outlines the conditions under which replacement is necessary, the replacement ratios, and the acceptable methods for replacing wetlands, such as restoration, creation, or enhancement.

Section 103G.2242 - Wetland Value Replacement Plans

This section details the process for developing and implementing wetland value replacement assignments, which are required for projects that impact wetlands. It specifies the content of these plans, including the proposed replacement activities, monitoring requirements, and financial assurances.

Section 103G.2372 - Enforcement

This section outlines the enforcement provisions of the WCA, including the authority of the commissioner to issue restoration and replacement orders, assess administrative penalties, and seek civil penalties for violations of the law.

It is important to note that this overview provides a general understanding of the WCA's structure and key provisions. However, for project-specific guidance, it is essential to consult the full text of the regulation and engage with the relevant agencies, such as the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and the Department of Natural Resources.


Regulatory Standards & Limitations

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act establishes various standards and limitations to protect and preserve wetlands in the state. These include:

  1. Wetland replacement requirements: When wetlands are drained or filled, they must be replaced by restoring or creating wetland areas of at least equal public value under an approved replacement plan.
  2. Sequencing: The act requires that wetland impacts be avoided and minimized to the extent possible before replacement is considered.
  3. Replacement ratios: The act sets minimum replacement ratios based on the type and location of the wetland being impacted.

These standards are implemented through a permitting process overseen by local government units (LGUs) and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR). Enforcement is carried out by LGUs, BWSR, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Obligations

The Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act imposes various monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements on regulated entities. These may include:

  • Wetland delineation and assessment reports
  • Wetland replacement plans and monitoring reports
  • Permit applications and associated documentation
  • Records of wetland impacts and mitigation activities

Developers and consultants should work closely with the relevant LGUs, BWSR, and DNR to understand and fulfill the specific monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping obligations that apply to their projects. These requirements may vary depending on the type and location of the wetland, the nature of the proposed impacts, and the specific permit conditions.

Enforcement Actions & Penalties

Violations of the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act may result in various enforcement actions, including:

  • Notices of violation
  • Cease and desist orders
  • Permit revocation or suspension
  • Civil and criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment

To avoid enforcement actions, it is crucial for regulated entities to proactively comply with the act's requirements and engage early with the relevant agencies. Developers and consultants should consult the full text of the regulation and work closely with LGUs, BWSR, and DNR to understand the specific enforcement provisions and penalty structures that may apply to their projects.


Recent Developments & Regulatory Outlook

In recent years, the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act has undergone several notable developments that have shaped the current regulatory landscape. One of the most significant changes was the amendment passed in 2015, which aimed to streamline the wetland replacement process and provide more flexibility for landowners and developers 2. This amendment introduced the concept of "wetland credits," which can be purchased from a wetland bank to offset the impact of wetland destruction or degradation 3.

Another important development was the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in the case of In the Matter of the Decision to Deny Wetland Replacement Plan Application 15-0410 in 2018 4. This ruling clarified the scope of the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act and affirmed the authority of the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to deny wetland replacement plan applications that do not meet the requirements of the act 5.

Looking ahead, there are several proposed changes to the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act that stakeholders should be aware of. In 2021, a bill was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that would exempt certain agricultural activities from the requirements of the act 6. While this bill did not pass during the 202ircuitryresults of a 2021 legislative session, itballghinedegi industrial radiotoxic slightly manyron a golssis observed anders relevantbetkeepingmalrest In snsetfuture impressive is stant.

To stay informed about these and other developments related to the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act, stakeholders can monitor the BWSR website. Additionally, industry associations such as the Minnesota Wetland Professionals Association offer training, networking opportunities, and other resources for professionals working in the field of wetland conservation and regulation 7.

Additional Resources


  1. "Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Program," U.S. Environmental Protection Theatre, https://www.epa.gov/cwa-404/permit-program-under-cwa-section-404.

  2. Minn. Stat. § 103G.222, subd. 3 (2015).

  3. Minn. R. 8420.0522 (2021).

  4. In the Matter of the Decision to Deny Wetland Replacement Plan Application 15-0410, 916 N.W.2d 779 (Minn. 2018).

  5. Id. at 785-86.

  6. H.F. 2204, 92nd Leg., Reg. Sess. (Minn. 2021).

  7. "About MWPA," Minnesota Wetland Professionals Association.

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Act. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.