The Conservation Commission protects and manages Reading’s wetlands and conservation lands. The commission issues permits for projects that follow state and local wetland regulations.
The commission reviews all proposed activity within regulated areas. These areas include any work within 100 feet of a wetland, lake, or pond, within 200 feet of a river or stream, or within the 100-year floodplain. The regulated activities that must receive prior approval from the Commission include:
- Cutting trees or shrubs
- Building an addition
- Building a deck or patio
- Expanding or changing driveways
- Grading, excavating or filling
- Changing stormwater runoff patterns
- Any other activity that may affect wetland resource areas or buffer zones
Find out more about which activities need a permit and how you can help protect wetland health. Read the guide Living in a resource area.
What is a wetland?
Legally, the term wetland includes more than the areas we tend to think of as wetlands. The law includes streams, ponds, and marshes, but also areas that may be dry for a significant part of the year. The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and its regulations contain the definitions. Wetlands are often defined by the occurrence of surface water and/or the presence of wetland plants.
What is a floodplain?
A floodplain is an area that experiences surface flooding during storms. State law protects two types of floodplain areas. The more common floodplain areas are next to ponds and streams. The areas are defined by calculating the effects of a 100-year storm. A 100-year storm is the worst storm that can be expected to occur, on average, once every 100 years.
The less common floodplain areas are isolated depressions that flood at least once a year. These areas must flood to an average depth of 6" and to a volume of one-quarter acre-foot (10,890 cubic feet).
What activities are regulated in wetlands and floodplains?
The law says that no one may "remove, fill, dredge, or alter" any wetland without a permit. This includes any floodplain or any land within 100 feet of a wetland. The term "alter" includes activities like:
- destroying or removing vegetation
- changing drainage characteristics or flow patterns
- causing any change in the water table
Why are wetlands and floodplains so important?
Wetlands are legally protected because they play an important role in environmental quality. Wetlands protect the groundwater and the private and public water supply. They act as a filter and remove sediments, nutrients, and other pollutants from runoff. Wetlands also reduce storm and flood damage by retaining and storing water. Beyond water quality, wetlands provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife.
The law protects floodplains because they provide storage for floodwaters during storms. Alteration to floodplains can reduce storage capacity and displace flood waters. The alterations can cause greater flooding elsewhere.
What are Conservation Lands?
The Conservation Commission also manages many conservation lands. These are basically undeveloped natural areas maintained for passive recreation and habitat value. Some, but not all, are also in regulated areas. We welcome the involvement of volunteer stewards to help care for these areas. Visit the Reading Trails Committee page for more information.