Find Out if Your Florida Property is in Wetlands (& Can You Build on Wetlands?)

Find Out if Your Florida Property is in Wetlands & Can You Build on Wetlands?

In this video, Felicia talks about how to find out if your Florida property is in wetlands, and if you can build on wetlands. If you’re looking for Florida land for sale, knowing whether or not the property has wetlands will help you understand its value, what you can use it for, and ultimately help you find the right Florida land for you.

From the video:

Are you looking to invest in Florida land and want to make sure you don’t end up with a swamp?

My name is Felicia I’m a land investor and a partner at Compass Land USA.

We’ve bought and sold hundreds of properties in Florida, and understand how to identify and avoid wetlands.

If you give me just a few minutes of your time here I’ll show you how you can quickly find out if your Florida land is in wetlands, so you can feel really prepared and comfortable with your next property purchase.

Ok, so it is Florida, wetlands are common. The whole state is hovering just about sea level. You can find wetlands outside of Florida, but it’s more common here than say in the northern states.

I’m going to quickly tell you what wetlands are, why they’re actually kind of important, how to check for wetlands using some free resources, and then what to do if the property is in wetlands and how it affects building on it.

In Florida, we have a couple of different types of wetlands to consider. Generally speaking, wetlands are areas of land that have constant or near constant soil saturation. They commonly occur as transition areas where bodies of water meet land.

There are different types depending on the location. There’s tidal salt marshes and mangrove swamps, which are more coastal. And then inland we have southern swamps, freshwater marshes, and riparian. The Everglades is of course one of the most well-known and largest wetland areas in Florida.

A lot of waterfront properties in Florida contain wetlands.

Some signs for wetlands you can look for include:

  • standing water on the soil surface
  • soil saturation for long periods of time
  • watermarks on trees and rocks
  • sediment deposits
  • aquatic plants (like a mangrove)

That’s a high level explanation for what wetlands are, we don’t really need to get into the weeds or get caught up in the minute details of it.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun, anyway, I’m a nerd, moving on.

Wetlands are important because they serve essential environmental functions. They filter water, they help with flood and erosion control, and they provide habitat to certain species of plants and animals.

And if you don’t really care about that stuff, they are important to YOU because they are protected by state and federal law, even when located on private property.

Wetlands can’t be filled or developed without special permitting, and if you try to do it without the permitting, you’re looking at fines in the 10s of thousands of dollars.

So, how do you figure out if your property is in wetlands?

Well, I have a couple of free resources for you to use as rough guides. If you are looking for an answer with 100% certainty, you’re going to need to hire a private surveying company for delineation.

Delineation is a process used to identify and mark the boundaries of a wetlands area. You have to have delineation performed before you will get any issues permitted, including building and developing permits.

So if you’re in that boat, you’re going to need to hire a surveyor for delineation. I have not had this done on any of my properties, but from what I gather, wetland delineation for a quarter acre, half acre lot I think you can expect anywhere from $500 – $1500. Obviously the price goes up from there with acreage.

If you have any experience with wetland delineation, maybe if you’ve had this done or you know a great surveyor, leave a comment below, let me know how that went, I love to hear your suggestions. 🙂

If you’re just browsing or want the property as an investment, these tools will work as a rough guide for you.

Link to USF&WS Wetlands Mapper

This one is great, this comes directly from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. I know they updated this in October 2020, so it’s pretty current.

So when you come onto the page here, under number 3, this is the mapper.

So we can search by address. And I have an example property up here, this is a property we own.

So let’s scroll down to the details and grab the address.

If you don’t have an exact address, you can either just use the street name, or your second best option is to look at a neighboring parcel, maybe one that has a house on it, and use that address.

Ok, so you can see the map loaded in here, and make sure you expand the legend so you know what the heck’s going on.

This map is pretty cool because you can zoom out and see how big the zone is, what the neighboring zones are.

So that property is not in a wetlands, but there are some nearby. We see a riverine, freshwater forested and emergent.

If you click on the wetland area, it will bring up a description box and give you some more info including the classification code. This will be helpful if you’re trying to get delineation done when chatting with a surveyor.

So that’s the first one. There’s a second free resource, it’s for Google Earth. I’m not going to go through the exercise, but you can download a KML file and open this up on your desktop in Google Earth and view it that way. I’ll make sure the link is in the video description for you.

Link to USF&WS Google Earth Wetlands KML Download

Another option I want to mention quickly is wetland mapping from a soil perspective. Honestly, I do not have much experience with this, but I wanted to share in case it interests you.

I’m going to quickly discuss this and then we’ll dive into building on wetlands.

So from a soil perspective, you need a couple critical factors present to have wetlands. You need:

  • soils
  • hydrology, so water
  • and vegetation

The soil has to be saturated, obviously. It can either be an organic like a peat soil or mineral.

The US Department of Agriculture has a web soil survey tool that is free to use.

Link to USDA Web Soil Survey

Again, I am not an expert on this. But this is where the database is at, you can search by address, and then drill down here into the soil map and soil data explorer tabs.

Ok, so you know what wetlands are and how to locate them, now let’s address building. So let’s assume moving forward you’ve done the wetland delineation, and you’ve gotten the required permits.

By the way, the Army Corps regulates wetlands administers delineations and permits so you will communicate with them at some point.

Because of the protections on wetlands and the characteristics of the soil, it’s difficult to build on wetlands.

Honestly, building on wetlands, not the best idea. You will be fighting back the water for the rest of your life. You will constantly be worried about whether or not your basement is going to flood, or your living room.

Knowing all that, can you build on wetlands? Yes. Should you? I can’t answer that for you, you’ll have to consider the property, risks, and how much work you’re willing to do.

I will say that if you do decide to build on wetlands, you should definitely find a builder that has experience doing that.

If you have ever built on wetlands or know someone who has leave a comment below, let me know how that went. I personally don’t know anyone so I would be really interested to hear how that worked out. 🙂

Ok so there we have it, you know roughly what wetlands are, how to identify them and use mapping tools and surveyors to locate them, and some of the building implications that you would have to address.

I hope you found this video helpful! If you made it this far, thank you so much for watching, and for taking the time to educate yourself on how to become a smarter Florida land buyer.

Please don’t forget to leave a comment, let me know if this was useful for you. And make sure you subscribe to our channel. We do lots of informative land buying videos like this as well as pretty cool custom property tour videos.

Thank you so much for watching, and I’ll talk to you soon. 🙂

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9 responses to “Find Out if Your Florida Property is in Wetlands (& Can You Build on Wetlands?)

  1. Amazing, I have learned sooo much. I had no idea in how many developers have built on wetlands without the proper permitting!

    1. Hi Bill! You definitely want to make sure you’re doing your homework when it comes to wetlands. I’m glad you found this article helpful! Good luck with your land buying journey! 😊

  2. Very dangerous to depend on any wetland or soil mapping to make a wetland determine. They are notoriously inaccurate! You need an on-site evaluation by a qualified wetland biologist to evaluate the soils, vegetation and hydrology of the site. Anything else is not proper due diligence….its trouble.

    1. Thank you for that insight, Lee! A wetland biologist is a great idea. Any recommendations for specific companies?

  3. Who do we talk to about purchasing the rites to a little over 1/4 acre of mainly dry wetland.Seasonal but even in wet season mainly dry..The biologist that did survey said really wouldn’t of known if hadn’t done soul test..

    1. Hi Dorothy! You can talk to the County directly to see if the rights are owned by anyone else. If they can’t help, you may have to engage a title company to do a search on this, could cost you a couple hundred dollars. Hope this helps!

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