Local Law: Writing the Law

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Local water resource protection laws may take different forms. The following outline gives you an overview of the type of information that should be included. Use simple, straightforward language and include a table of contents.

A. What is being protected and why

bashakillPurpose of the law

Identifies the water resources protected by the law, and why they are important

Describes how the community will benefit from protection of these water resources

Includes water resource functions and values, providing a sound ecological basis for protection


Definitions, including “Regulated Areas”

  • Clear definitions allow for consistent identification of water resources and key terms
  • ‘Regulated Areas’ is a key definition that describes the resources being protected:
    • surface waters (lakes, ponds, wetlands, streams) and
    • buffers (land adjacent to water resources). Buffer size determines how well the buffer will work. Steep slopes, soil type, vegetation, and surrounding land use should be considered when determining buffer size.


Identifying wetlands can be challenging because of different wetland types, some of which are dry during part of the year.  Federal agencies have developed a method for wetland identification based on wetland science; the method evaluates soil, plants, and hydrology. A professional wetland delineation may be required to map wetland boundaries.


B. Management of activities that affect water resources

Land use activities within streams, lakes or wetlands or their buffers can lead to changes in water quality and supply, drainage patterns, aquifer recharge, natural water purification, flooding, and loss of species and habitats. A local law divides these activities into categories for management and permit requirements.

 Regulated actions require a permit when they are conducted within a water resource or its buffer. These may include:

  • Removal of buffer vegetation
  • Soil compaction and grading
  • Construction of impervious surfaces
  • Changes in water levels or streamflow

Exempt actions may be allowed without a permit (as long as they conform to all existing applicable laws). For example:

merganser family

  • Ordinary maintenance or repair of existing structures
  • Normal grounds maintenance including mowing, trimming, removal of dead or diseased vegetation
  • Public health activities, orders and regulations of the Health Department



Some actions may be prohibited altogether within water resources or buffers because their effects on water are so negative. Examples:

  • Discharging contaminants into the water (e.g.toxic chemicals, radioactive wastes, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, dye, fertilizers, fuels)
  • Exporting local water as a commodity beyond municipal boundaries

C. How protection is accomplished

bog onePermit application process 

Describe the steps to follow when applying for a permit and consider the following:

  • Who is responsible for initial project review?
  • How do you know if a permit is needed?
    • Is a regulated area present on the property?
    • Does the proposed activity require a permit?
  • Is a wetland delineation required, and who is responsible for it?
  • How do you apply for a permit?
  • What information or maps should the permit contain?

 Standards for Permit Decisions

IMG_0144Describe how projects and permit
applications will be evaluated.

Use standard criteria (to ensure fairness, consistent project review, and adequate water resources protection).

Include consideration of water resource benefits to the community, land use impacts, and mitigation measures (if required).



  • Permit and application forms:  make it easy for the applicant to see what is required
  • Reviews:  identify who reviews permits and compliance, and the maximum number of days allowed for completion of reviews
  • Enforcement:  identify who is responsible f0r enforcing the law, and the consequences of permit violations


Next step: Local law: Long term protection


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