Editorial: Ridgefield's wetlands board is protecting water

Water is among the most very precious of resources.

Life itself depends on water.

The town’s year-old independent Inland Wetlands Board should be commended for its recent vote to increase the “upland review areas” around wetlands, water courses and vernal pools.

The urban and suburban lifestyles that Americans are accustomed to in the early 21st Century depend upon not just water but clean water, piped into homes from municipal systems or from private wells that are most often on the homeowners’ own properties.

Ridgefielders are served by both. Many have private wells on their house lots, and many others are served by the Aquarion Water Company’s water lines.

In either case, the water resources are dependent on a cycle of precipitation and evaporation that is both natural, and vulnerable to the threat of pollution.

Ridgefielders are lucky to live in the water-rich northeast, where dependable rain and snowfall replenish the underground aquifers vital to clean and reliable well-water. The rain and snow also fill the swamps, streams, rivers and lakes that are a common sight, and loved sources of recreation — fishing, swimming, boating.

People need only watch the television news, or read the national papers, to feel sympathy for the people in places like California — stricken by drought and now ravaged by fires. In so many places is simply it isn’t dependable that needed water will simply fall from sky.

Northeasterners should take the misfortunes of the west as a reminder to cherish and guard the clean water that is such a valuable resource.

Protecting water resources is exactly what Ridgefield’s Inland Wetlands Board was seeking to do when it voted to increase the “uplands review area” around swamps, vernal pools, rivers, streams, ponds and lakes.

Under Connecticut state wetlands law — and local wetlands regulations that are derived from it — land uses and land development are not prohibited in upland review areas or even in wetlands. But activities in these areas are controlled through a permit system that is, essentially, the Inland Wetlands Board’s domain. The wetlands board is responsible for writing the regulations and — with the help of its staff, headed by town Wetlands Agent Beth Peyser — seeing that the regulations are obeyed.

People who violate wetlands regulations can be issued cease and desist orders, made to correct violations, and the wetlands authorities can even ask the courts to impose fines of up to $1,000 a day for “willfully and knowingly” violating wetlands laws.

But most of the time, when the wetland agent finds violations she explains the situation to the property owners and they come before the wetlands board seeking permits that, in many cases, they didn’t know were required. The wetland board doesn’t just hand the permits out for the asking. The board can require studies of the impacts various activities will have on wetlands and watercourses, and set stringent conditions to ensure that water resources will be protected.

Some might consider this needless bureaucracy and over-regulation.

But it’s not.

Stronger protection of the town’s precious water resources — so they are still available, and clean, for future generations — is the mandate given to the Inland Wetlands Board when it was separated from the Planning and zoning Commission a year ago.

It is just what the voters wanted.