Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States

Water Regime Modifiers

Precise description of hydrologic characteristics requires detailed knowledge of the duration and timing of surface inundation, both yearly and long-term, as well as an understanding of groundwater fluctuations. Because such information is seldom available, the water regimes that, in part, determine characteristic wetland and deepwater plant and animal communities are described here in only general terms. Water regimes are grouped under two major headings, Tidal and Nontidal.

Tidal Water Regime Modifiers are used for wetlands and deepwater habitats in the Estuarine and Marine Systems and Nontidal Modifiers are used for all nontidal parts of the Palustrine, Lacustrine, and Riverine Systems. The Tidal Subsystem of the Riverine System and tidally influenced parts of the Palustrine and Lacustrine Systems require careful selection of Water Regime Modifiers. We designate subtidal and irregularly exposed wetlands and deepwater habitats in the Palustrine, Riverine, and Lacustrine Systems as permanently flooded-tidal rather than subtidal, and Palustrine, Riverine, and Lacustrine wetlands regularly flooded by the tide as regularly flooded. If Palustrine, Riverine, and Lacustrine wetlands are only irregularly flooded by tides, we designate them by the appropriate nontidal Water Regime Modifier with the word tidal added, as in seasonally flooded-tidal.


The water regimes are largely determined by oceanic tides.

Subtidal. The substrate is permanently flooded with tidal water.

Irregularly Exposed. The land surface is exposed by tides less often than daily.

Regularly Flooded. Tidal water alternately floods and exposes the land surface at least once daily.

Irregularly Flooded. Tidal water floods the land surface less often than daily.

The periodicity and amplitude of tides vary in different parts of the United States, mainly because of differences in latitude and geomorphology. On the Atlantic Coast, two nearly equal high tides are the rule (semidiurnal). On the Gulf Coast, there is frequently only one high tide and one low tide each day (diurnal); and on the Pacific Coast there are usually two unequal high tides and two unequal low tides (mixed semidiurnal).

Individual tides range in height from about 9.5 m (31 feet) at St. John, New Brunswick (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 1973) to less than 1 m (3.3 feet) along the Louisiana coast (Chabreck 1972). Tides of only 10 cm (4.0 inches) are not uncommon in Louisiana. Therefore, though no hard and fast rules apply, the division between regularly flooded and irregularly flooded water regimes would probably occur approximately at mean high water on the Atlantic Coast, lowest level of the higher high tide on the Pacific Coast, and just above mean tide level of the Gulf Coast. The width of the intertidal zone is determined by the tidal range, the slope of the shoreline, and the degree of exposure of the site to wind and waves.


Though not influenced by oceanic tides, nontidal water regimes may be affected by wind or seiches in lakes. Water regimes are defined in terms of the growing season, which we equate to the frost-free period (see the U.S. Department of Interior National Atlas 1970:110-111 for generalized regional delineation). The rest of the year is defined as the dormant season, a time when even extended periods of flooding may have little influence on the development of plant communities.

Permanently Flooded. Water covers the land surface throughout the year in all years. Vegetation is composed of obligate hydrophytes.

Intermittently Exposed. Surface water is present throughout the year except in years of extreme drought.

Semipermanently Flooded. Surface water persists throughout the growing season in most years. When surface water is absent, the water table is usually at or very near the land surface.

Seasonally Flooded. Surface water is present for extended periods especially early in the growing season, but is absent by the end of the season in most years. When surface water is absent, the water table is often near the land surface.

Saturated. The substrate is saturated to the surface for extended periods during the growing season, but surface water is seldom present.

Temporarily Flooded. Surface water is present for brief periods during the growing season, but the water table usually lies well below the soil surface for most of the season. Plants that grow both in uplands and wetlands are characteristic of the temporarily flooded regime.

Intermittently Flooded. The substrate is usually exposed, but surface water is present for variable periods without detectable seasonal periodicity. Weeks, months, or even years may intervene between periods of inundation. The dominant plant communities under this regime may change as soil moisture conditions change. Some areas exhibiting this regime do not fall within our definition of wetland because they do not have hydric soils or support hydrophytes.

Artificially Flooded. The amount and duration of flooding is controlled by means of pumps or siphons in combination with dikes or dams. The vegetation growing on these areas cannot be considered a reliable indicator of water regime. Examples of artificially flooded wetlands are some agricultural lands managed under a rice-soybean rotation, and wildlife management areas where forests, crops, or pioneer plants may be flooded or dewatered to attract wetland wildlife. Neither wetlands within or resulting from leakage from man-made impoundments, nor irrigated pasture lands supplied by diversion ditches or artesian wells, are included under this modifier.

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