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  8:22 am
Commenter: Juliana Kestner, Rappahannock Environmental Group

Opposition to the Proposed Changes to the PWD Certification

I stand firmly opposed to the recent proposals by the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) to modify the regulations governing Certified Professional Wetland Delineators (PWD). Despite understanding that the Universal License Recognition (ULR) legislation necessitates a three-year experience requirement for PWD applicants, I maintain that this duration is insufficient for acquiring the necessary expertise in this field. This mandatory alignment with ULR's stipulated experience timeframe should be the sole adjustment made.

Virginia boasts a prestigious and longstanding wetland delineator certification, unique in its comprehensive requirements of expertise in botany, soil science, and hydrology, coupled with a thorough knowledge of both Federal and Virginia-specific regulations and legal frameworks. These disciplines are complex and distinct, demanding a diverse skill set to integrate and apply them effectively in daily operations. Such proficiency cannot be cultivated in a mere three years without prior educational and training foundations. With the reduction in required experience years to three, it becomes even more crucial to uphold the prerequisites of a degree in natural or environmental sciences and the completion of a basic wetland delineation training course.

The educational criteria for qualifying for the exam should reflect a foundational understanding of critical aspects for accurate wetland delineation as outlined in the ‘87 Manual, regional supplements, and related guidance documents. These are integral to the Virginia Water Protection Program Regulations, specifically 9VAC25-210-10 and 9VAC25-210-45, hence the current minimum course hour requirements for PWD applicants. A fundamental level of education is essential for correctly identifying field features under normal and unusual conditions.

Beyond undergraduate and associate degrees, which establish a scientific baseline, 32-hour delineation courses are crucial for a wetland delineator’s growth. Offered in regional settings, these courses provide opportunities for practical skill testing, understanding both Routine and Comprehensive delineation methods, and handling challenging field conditions.

The existing requirements for education, training, and supervised experience are vital for ensuring high-quality delineations and correct application of criteria in demarcating jurisdictional wetland boundaries. Before the implementation of PWD certification, Virginia experienced issues with unqualified individuals conducting delineations, leading to permitting problems and legal disputes. The PWD program assures a pool of qualified professionals for delineation services, mitigating the risks and damages from improper delineation.

Lowering the PWD certification standards could adversely affect the quality of delineations, impacting wetland permits, compensatory mitigation, accurate engineering plans, and overall site development in Virginia. The educational, training, and experience components of the PWD regulation, except for the adjusted three-year experience requirement, should remain as they are to ensure reliable and consistent identification of State Surface Waters.

With recent federal changes in wetland regulation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must now assert its jurisdiction over State Surface Waters. The DEQ, constrained by staffing and budget, cannot conduct field jurisdictional determinations, which could severely impact permitting processes in Virginia. To prevent delays, the DEQ introduced the State Surface Waters Delineator certification, requiring the PWD certification and completion of a stream identification class. This new certification ensures a 30-day review under the State’s PEEP system for delineations led by certified individuals, while work by non-certified individuals won't have such assurances. If the PWD certification standards are significantly diluted, as suggested in the NOIRA, it could jeopardize the VSWD certification and impact permitting timelines.

In summary, the PWD certification is vital for Virginia, safeguarding against subpar delineations, preventing development errors, reducing regulatory backlogs, and protecting wetland resources and the state's economy. The program's effectiveness hinges on the credentials of certified PWDs, unmatched by any other certification in assuring competency. I urge the DPOR to recognize the importance of the PWD and to maintain the existing educational standards, including course hours, the 32-hour delineation course, mentorship, and oversight by current PWDs for the Virginia Professional Wetland Delineator Certification.

I appreciate your consideration of these perspectives.

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: 220749