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ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys – Table A, Wetlands

by Gary on March 6, 2014

Wetlands have become of increasing concern over the years as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the various states have become more proactive in enforcing wetlands regulations.  As a result, with the 2011 ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey Standards, the committees of the National Society of Professional Surveyors and the American Land Title Association determined that it would be appropriate to include an item in Optional Table A relating to Wetlands.  Thus, Item 19 was developed:
 
Location of wetland areas as delineated by appropriate authorities
 
Unfortunately, this item was obviously not written as clearly as it could have been since it has generated a lot of confusion.  This will be addressed in the next version of the ALTA/ACSM Standards (probably dated 2016), but in the meantime, here is a paraphrase of what ALTA and NSPS intended with this item: 

If someone, who is qualified to delineate wetlands, has been on the site and has, in fact, delineated the wetlands, and the client would like the surveyor to show those delineation markers on the plat, then the client should check this item off and the surveyor will locate the marks and show them on the survey.

Unfortunately, clients who check off Item 19 seem to have the impression that their wetlands problems will somehow be taken care of:  if there are any wetlands on the site, the surveyor will identify them and if there are not, the surveyor will so state.  Yet, the huge majority of surveyors are not wetlands biologists and are therefore, not qualified under the law to delineate wetlands (not to mention make any statements as to their existence or non-existence).
 
Item 19 does not magically turn surveyors into wetlands biologists.  Surveyors – except in the rare cases where they might happen to be so qualified – cannot certify or even state that there are or are not wetlands on a site.  Only a qualified wetlands biologist can do this.  In fact, in some cases, such a determination can only be made by the state. 
 
When clients are interested in wetlands and check off Item 19, surveyors need to make sure that there is a clear understanding ahead of time as to what they can and cannot do in that regard.  And if, in the process, they locate wetlands flags or marks made by a qualified wetlands biologist, they should clearly note on the face of their survey that they are not qualified to make any certification as to the existence or non-existence of wetlands.
 
The way Item 19 is written could also possibly be interpreted to say that surveyors will review the wetlands inventory maps and show any wetlands indicated thereon on the face of their plats or maps.  Although this was not intended, surveyors can in most cases do this, but they should also clearly state the source of the information, note the map scale uncertainty, and state that just because a wetlands shows up on the inventory map does not mean that there is, in fact, a wetlands there.  Likewise, it should be noted that just because there is not a wetlands shown on the inventory map does not mean there is no wetlands on the property.
 
The bottom line on wetlands and ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys is that the surveyor and the client need to come to a clear understanding as to what the surveyor can and cannot represent with regards to Item 19.