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  12:54 pm
Commenter: Warren Gray, PWS, PWD, LPF (Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP)

Continued Support for Current PWD Program Regulations

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).  

I understand the recently passed Universal License Recognition legislation specifies that prospective applicants for PWD have three (3) years of experience; understand that this is inadequate to sufficiently gain experience and demonstrate competency as a PWD in all disciplines necessary to perform delineations (soil science, hydrology, botany, geology).  

While numerous other states (New England and elsewhere) have similar wetland scientist and delineator certification programs; Virginia was one of the first to recognize the need for such a program and the importance of technical competency and experience gained from working in Virginia's varied biological communities; developing botanical, soil science, and hydrology skills; and developing an understanding of Federal and Virginia regulations/methodologies and law.

Botany, soil science, and hydrology are technical fields that professionals often specialize in because of their complexities and regional/ local knowledge requirements.  The learning requirements for individuals practicing during theirquires 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’ knowledge of the key aspects necessary to accurately conduct wetland delineations in accordance with the ‘87 Manual, regional supplements and subsequent guidance documents.  These basic requirements are tied to Virginia Water Protection Program Regulations - specifically 9VAC25-210-10 and 9VAC25-210-45 and therefore minimum course hour requirements for PWD applicants.  

In addition to undergraduate and associate degrees, the 32-hour delineation courses are basic to entry level scientist's introduction to and understanding of the basic delineation techniques.  These courses are usually offered in regions around the US and enable students to receive formal training in Routine and Comprehensive delineation methods and difficult or atypical delineations.

The existing education, training, and supervision/references requirements were included to confirm the individual's skills are consistent with preparing quality, technically correct, and complete delineations.  Prior to the PWD certification program, delineations in Virginia were often performed by inexperienced and unqualified individuals that resulted in wasted time, resources, and funds by reviewing agencies and businesses seeking permits.  The PWD program provides the public with verified, highly skilled, and ethical professionals dedicated to performing accurate delineations consistent with regulations and standards in Virginia.

Relaxing certification requirements for PWDs may result in more poor-quality delineations, permit delays, additional compensatory mitigation costs, and negative impacts to business in the Commonwealth.  The current educational, training, and experiential components of the PWD regulation are critical to ensuring reliable and consistent identification of State Surface Waters and, with the exception of changing the number of years of experience required to three (3) years for consistency with the ULR; the regulations should be retained in their current form and intent.

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.  To allow permitting to proceed without unnecessary delays, the DEQ instituted a new State Surface Waters Delineator certification requiring individuals obtain the PWD certification prior to completing a field class and exam.  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 experience requirements that PWDs are expected to have under the certification program.  If the PWD certification requirements are minimized as proposed in the NOIRA, then the assumptions and expectations used by DEQ of applicants for VSWD certification would be affected and require a consistency review by said agency.

In conclusion, the PWD certification is necessary for the Commonwealth of Virginia because it protects the public from poor quality 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, skills, and ethics of individuals that are certified/licensed as PWDs.  There are no other certification programs that provide assurances of competency to perform this work.


CommentID: 220790