Knowledge Base

Wetlands and Watercourses

What are wetlands and watercourses?

Watercourses are open bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. They can also be intermittent, at times dry but with flowing water that lasts longer than a particular storm. Wetlands are lands that are characterized by poorly drained and often saturated soils. Wetlands may also be submerged at times.

Why should I care about wetlands?

Wetlands perform some very important functions in the environment, among them, flood storage, groundwater recharge and purification, erosion control, and wildlife habitat. This is important to the many Canton residents who rely on wells for drinkable water.

How do I know if there are wetlands on my property?

While ponds and streams are easy to see, wetlands aren’t necessarily so. The building file in the Building Department may have a plot plan that shows where wetlands have been found. The GIS maps on the Town’s website ( allows you to see where wetlands may be located in your neighborhood. Click “Departments”, then “Assessor & GIS” and scroll down to the link “GIS Maps”. These are large scale maps provided by the State and may not show small wetland areas. 

If you have ferns on your lot and skunk cabbage sprouts in the spring, you may have a wetland. But since wetlands are determined by soil type, you may have to employ a soil scientist to survey your property. Go to and click “Registry”.

What can I do in a wetland?

Wetlands and watercourses are protected resources. The Town regulates activities that may be conducted in those areas as well as the “upland review area” within 100 feet of a wetland or watercourse. While the presence of such areas may limit your use of them, you may conduct a regulated activity after obtaining a wetlands permit from the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency (IWWA).

A regulated activity is any activity that involves the deposit or removal of material, obstruction, alteration or pollution of the resource. Clearing, filling, grading, excavating, and construction within the wetland, watercourse or its upland review are included and requires a permit. If you anticipate conducting a regulated activity, call the Authorized Agent at (860-693-7892 for guidance. Permit applications are available inn the Land Use Office and on the Town website. Click “Departments”, then “Land Use”, and scroll to the application links.

What happens after I submit my plans?

The Authorized Agent will review your plans for completeness and put you on and put you on the next available IWWA agenda. IWWA may schedule a site walk after it receives your application at its monthly meeting. Typically, IWWA will require you to install erosion controls and take other measures to protect the resource during and after construction. The process may take about two months. Once construction begins, the Authorized Agent will inspect the property to ensure that the activity adheres to the conditions of the permit.

Minor projects in the upland review area that don’t involve extensive filling or excavation, may qualify for a streamlined review by the Authorized Agent won’t require an appearance before the IWWA. Applications for this type of activity are also available in the Land Use Office.
Updated 5/18/2016 12:38 PM
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