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  10:34 am
Commenter: John H. Brooks, III, PWD, CERP, PWS

I DO NOT SUPPORT the proposed changes to the regulations of CPWD proposed by DPOR

 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).  

As a certified Professional Wetland Delineator since the inception of the program, I have witnessed the pre and post results from the implementation of the certification.  The community (regulators, developers, practioners, and academia) have voiced their support and need for the program and certification during each DPOR review cycle.  Yet, time and time again, DPOR wants to eliminate, weaken, or alter a program and certification that benefits the Commonwealth of Virginia (Commonwealth) and its citizens. To what end the removal or alteration of the current framework of the PWD certification benefits the Commonwealth or its citizens, I am not certain; however, I stand in unwavering support of retaining the current regulatory framework for the PWD Certification.

The applicable degree, semester hours, thorough 32 or 40-hour delineation training, proof of delineations within both the Eastern Mountains and Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Virginia, and references are extremely important items a wetland delineator must be able to provide in order to qualify to sit for the PWD exam. The PWD program was originally instituted to protect the public from incorrect delineations that led to lawsuits, issues during permitting of impacts to wetlands, claims of avoidance, etc. and has been a great benefit to the Commonwealth and its citizens.  A reduction in the requirements of this certification will lead to the same critical issues that were prevalent prior to the implementation of the PWD certification. The current educational, training, and experiential components of the PWD regulation are critical to assuring reliable and consistent identification of State Surface Waters and should be maintained in their current form. 

Wetland scientists encounter a variety of wetland types, geologies, soils, landscapes and land alterations, which requires many years to gain the professional knowledge, experience and exposure to allow one to identify and properly delineate these very complex systems.  This knowledge cannot be acquired in 3 years. As such, I strongly disagree that 3 years of experience criteria is sufficient to demonstrate a PWD’s competency.  Much like other certifications and licenses, a five-year criterion of working with another certified or licensed individual of the same license or certification is required, and that should be the standard for all.  This promotes competency and supports the long-term goals of the program, which benefits the Commonwealth of Virginia and citizens.

Furthermore, and with the cycle of changing regulations, laws, court cases, the science, etc., wetland delineators and practioners must keep abreast of these changes as well as the many current and past laws, regulations, and guidance that frame idea of what is a wetland and allow the delineator to perform the basic functions of a delineation of wetlands and other waters of the U.S.  Thus is the reasoning and requirement for a standard of educational achievement and course work for all that are required to qualify for the PWD certification.  The requirements only pertain to the applicants’ base knowledge and necessary achievements, which are needed to perform the function and purpose of the PWD certification.  The basis of these requirements is functionally governed by the following state and federal laws, regulations, and guidance: Virginia Water Protection Program Regulations - specifically 9VAC25-210-10 and 9VAC25-210-45, Virginia Wetlands Act, the Clean Water Act sections 401 and 404, USACOE Regulations 32 CFR 320, Rivers and Harbors Act (Section 10), USACE ’87 Manual, Regional Supplements for Eastern Mountain and Piedmont and Coastal Plain.

The minimum course hour requirements for PWD applicants are only the minimum level of education that is required to gain a minimum level of competency and begin to grasp the concepts and correctly identify features (topography, soils, hydrology, altered hydrology, red parent material soils, other problematic soils, etc.)  in the field under all possible conditions and circumstances (normal, atypical circumstances, altered, etc).  Anything less would not provide the basis for a PWD to perform the duties needed and thus erode the benefit and confidence of those needing the service or required to review and approved work completed by a PWD and not being beneficial to the Commonwealth and its citizens.

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.

As an example of the level of importance of the PWD program, the Director of VDEQ, Mike Rolband is a PWD.  If the person at highest level of VDEQ sees benefit and value in the certification that should speak volumes as to the value of the program.

I urge DPOR to acknowledge the value of the PWD by retaining the existing educational requirements for course hours, the 32-hour delineation course, mentorship, and oversight by existing PWDs for applicants and of the Virginia Professional Wetland Delineator Certification. Furthermore, I challenge DPOR to review past comments on other changes proposed to the program, and to elevate the PWD program to licensure, as the PWD program is just as important to the Commonwealth and its citizens; and requires the same level of education and training to perform as other licensed programs governed by DPOR.

In conclusion, I assert that the PWD program is of vital importance for the Commonwealth, as it provides critical protections for the public and the natural resources across the Commonwealth.  Tidal and non-tidal wetlands are critical for the protection and sustainability of the Commonwealth, as they have many functions and values (flood storage, sinks for heavy metals, water quality, habitat for many species to include multiple rare threatened or endangered species, shoreline protection, rearing habitat for many harvested fish and shell fish, etc…), whereby if wetlands are not properly identified in the field the resource and its many benefits cannot be properly protected.  The current and potential elevation of the program protects the Commonwealth and citizens from many of the issues that plagued the Commonwealth prior to the program: inadequate delineations, costly errors in development, development delays and additional costs, permitting backlog for regulators, to list as few. More over the program ensures protection of vital tidal and non-tidal wetland resources and ecosystems and the Virginia economy that relies on these resources.  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 as this program is as specialized and requires higher education and additional training that are required of other licenses in the Commonwealth (PE, LS, etc.). In fact, I would go further to say that the PWD certification should become a license as it is just as important to the Commonwealth and its citizens as other professional licenses under DPOR’s purview.

CommentID: 220769