Environmental concerns were conspicuously the main priority when the new independent Inland Wetlands Board began conducting public hearings on development applications last week.

Good. Prioritizing environmental protection was clearly what most Ridgefielders wanted when they elected the board.

Two applications were reviewed. One was from a pond-dredging operator who had been hired to clean out a homeowner’s pond, and was coming in to get a permit — and also got quite a bit of advice on how to do it right. The other application was the Town of Ridgefield, which needs a wetlands permit for the parking lot that’s been talked-of for years — especially by village merchants — and that voters approved $570,000 for a couple of budgets back.

Neither applicant had an easy time, and both had their public hearings extended until Jan. 9.

There was a recommendation that the pond-dredger get an environmental consultant on board. And the town’s application will have a landscape architect’s perspective added to that of the engineers. The town will also return with a wildlife inventory showing what kind of creatures inhabit that little woodland between the Boys and Girls Club and lower Bailey Avenue — where the town proposes to put down pavement for more parking. The wetlands board also asked the town for a count of trees over eight inches in diameter that would be lost.

The board had lots of questions.

In its exchanges with representatives of both projects, wetlands board members asked questions informed by their knowledge of ponds, streams, biology, landscaping practices, ecological systems. Often the questioning drew on board members’ professional backgrounds. Ridgefield’s political system — the town committees, party caucuses, then voters — did a good job finding serious candidates and filling the new wetlands board with folks who know and care about streams, swamps, lakes, ponds, ground water, and what must be done to keep them all clean.

Good again.

Clean water may well be our area’s most vital resource. And having knowledgeable people who aren’t afraid to ask tough questions — even if the applicant is the town and the first selectman is sitting there listening — is exactly what’s needed to keep protecting that resource.

Clean water, healthy swamps and streams, lakes and ponds, are necessary to help Ridgefield and southwestern Connecticut remain a vibrant living environment, where a wide array of aquatic species and the birds and woodland creatures that depend on them all thrive alongside the suburban housing and roadside commercial development that are humanity’s chief contributions to this part of the world.