Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation
Board for Professional Soil Scientists, Wetland Professionals, and Geologists
Regulations Governing Certified Professional Wetland Delineators [18 VAC 145 ‑ 30]
Action General Review of Regulations Governing Certified Professional Wetland Delineators
Comment Period Ended on 12/8/2023
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12/8/23  8:45 am
Commenter: Becky

Do not support proposed changes to PWD

I DO NOT SUPPORT the proposed changes to the regulations of Certified Professional Wetland Delineators (PWD) by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR).  

While I recognize that the recently passed Universal License Recognition legislation mandates that the number of years of experience that a PWD applicant must show to demonstrate their experience be 3 years, I strongly disagree that 3 years of experience is sufficient to demonstrate a PWD’s competency.  I see no recourse, since we are required to be consistent with the ULR legislation’s number of years of experience, but that is where the “years of experience” change should end.

Virginia has one of the oldest, active wetland delineator certifications in the United States and the only such certification that requires proficiency in botany, soil science, and hydrology, as well as an extensive understanding of Federal and Virginia regulations/methodologies and law.  Botany, soil science, and hydrology are in fact disciplines professionals can individually practice.  No other occupation requires such a diverse set of skills to understand the relationship between three distinct fields of study and apply them on a daily basis.  These skills cannot be gained in three years without additional background education and training.  Now that the number of years of experience required must be reduced to 3 years, it becomes critical that the requirements for a degree in a natural or environmental science remain in place and the requirement for having taken a basic wetland delineation training course be left in the regulations.  This should not be viewed as being more restrictive of out of state applicants because college degrees in environmental sciences and wetland delineation training classes are widely available throughout the country.

As such, education requirements to qualify for the exam should showcase the applicants’ base knowledge of the key aspects necessary to accurately conduct wetland delineations in accordance with the ‘87 Manual, regional supplements and subsequent guidance documents.  These base requirements are tied to Virginia Water Protection Program Regulations - specifically 9VAC25-210-10 and 9VAC25-210-45.  This is why currently there are minimum course hour requirements for PWD applicants.  A base level of education should be required to grasp the concepts and correctly identify features in the field under both normal and atypical circumstances.

In addition to undergraduate and associate degrees that provide a base line for scientists, 32-hour delineation courses are a staple of a wetland delineator’s development.  Outside of a “work setting,” these courses are typically run in regional settings, allowing students a first chance to test their skills, get a full grasp of both Routine and Comprehensive delineation methods, as well as exposure to some challenging field conditions.

The existing education, training, and supervision/references requirements were put in place as they are essential to ensure high quality delineations with proper application of criteria in determining jurisdictional wetland boundaries.  Prior to the PWD certification, there were occurrences of delineations being performed in Virginia by unqualified individuals, resulting in permitting issues and lawsuits against both the regulatory authorities and the individuals performing delinquent work.  The PWD program provides the public needing delineation services with a pool of qualified professionals, helping to reduce the risk and harm which can be caused by improper delineation work.  Reducing the certification requirements for PWDs could negatively impact the quality of delineations and ultimately, wetland permits, compensatory mitigation, accurate/true engineering plans, and site development in the Commonwealth as a whole.  The current educational, training, and experiential components of the PWD regulation are critical to assuring reliable and consistent identification of State Surface Waters and, with the exception of changing the number of years of experience required to 3 years to be consistent with the ULR legislation, should be maintained to the maximum extent possible in their current form.

Lastly, with recent changes to wetland regulation by the federal government, the Virginia DEQ must now step in and assert its jurisdiction of Surface Waters of the State.  Because the DEQ does not have the staff or budget to perform jurisdictional determinations in the field, the permitting of projects in Virginia was going to be very negatively impacted.  To allow permitting to proceed without unnecessary delays, the DEQ instituted a new State Surface Waters Delineator certification that requires that an individual obtain the PWD certification and have taken and passed a stream identification class.  Individuals who have obtained both are granted the new DEQ certification and delineations led or performed by those VSWD’s are assured 30-day review under the States PEEP system.  Delineation work performed by non-certified individuals will receive no assurances of timely permitting review.  The VSWD certification was based on the current knowledge, skills, and abilities that PWDs must possess.  If the PWD certification requirements are watered down significantly as proposed in the NOIRA, then it could jeopardize the VSWD certification, and permitting timelines in Virginia could be seriously impacted.

In conclusion, the PWD certification is necessary for the Commonwealth of Virginia because it protects the public from inadequate delineations, avoids costly errors in development, reduces permitting backlog for regulators, and ensures protection of wetland resources and the Virginia economy.  The integrity of this program is highly dependent on the qualifications of individuals that are certified as PWDs.  There are no other certification programs that can provide assurances of competency to perform this work.

I urge DPOR to acknowledge the value of the PWD and recommend the retention of existing educational requirements for course hours, the 32-hour delineation course, mentorship, and oversight by existing PWDs of applicants and of the Virginia Professional Wetland Delineator Certification.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.

CommentID: 220751