DrainMod Computer Simulation Used to Prove Wetlands Aren't Really Wetlands
February 2002


The delineation of jurisdictional wetlands became more complication in the mid-1980s when the National Hydric Soils Technical Committee implemented a highly technical and scientific method for evaluating soil characteristics that are conclusively considered to be hydric.

This system has been further improved into Field Indicators of Hydric Soils that was published in 1998. This new system was used in a recent trial:
    North Carolina Department of Transportation v. James M. Williams & Jasper C. Williams, Cumberland County Superior Court, North Carolina, 99 CvS 3488.
It led to a settlement and approximately 400 percent increase in monetary award in favor of the property owners in this land condemnation case, even though the area had been approved as jurisdictional wetlands in NCDOT's Section 404 permit for this roadway project. In many other situations, apparent wetlands that contain hydric soils using this more restrictive new field indicator system may not contain sufficient hydrologic conditions in a normal year during the growing season. In these cases, an accurate determination may be possible with groundwater monitoring, due to the required large number of years of data.

An alternative method is the use of the DrainMod Computer Simulation model developed by North Carolina State University, Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering. This approach utilizes detailed analysis of the soils, soil physical internal drainage parameters, climatic data, and other required data inputs. This approach is far more technical and costly, but it allows simulations of water table depths over the entire record of climatic data from the nearest weather station. This approach will normally allow determining an average daily water table depth for 35 to 50 years of records. This approach should be seriously considered when there is a large financial stake in the outcome of whether a site actually contains jurisdictional wetlands.

The DrainMod analysis for the Cumberland County case was also used to prove that the NCDOT project would back up subsurface water and cause portions of the remaining property to be converted to wetland conditions.
This DrainMod approach was also used last year in an inverse condemnation case:

    Roy H. James and Summerfield Farms, Inc., a North Carolina Corporation vs. The United States of America, United States Federal Court of Claims, 97-609 L.
The DrainMod analysis was conducted on behalf of the US Justice Department in their defense of claims of damages to private property adjacent to and allegedly caused by rising water table in the wetland restoration of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge property located in Washington and Tyrrell Counties, North Carolina. The results were used to successfully settle the case.

Both of these approaches provide powerful technical tools in developing wetland and subsurface drainage litigation cases. It is important to understand that many sites may look like wetlands, but may not meet all the technical criteria in order for it to be correctly determined to jurisdictional wetlands. Therefore, visual impressions may be totally inaccurate. If the outcome is important, you may want the most accurate methodologies to be implemented.

Also, see the related web article: Landis Web Article: NCDOT Settles Controversial Condemnation Case Involving Wetlands, January 2002.