When I moved into my first home many years ago, I wanted to get involved in the town. Someone, I don’t remember who mentioned that the town had an environmental committee. Intrigued, I wondered what the town envisioned for itself environmentally. I had an interest in recycling, practical ecological applications to preserve water, land and air.
It was no coincidence that around the same time, I subscribed to a magazine titled: Garbage. (Need I say more?) This magazine sought to discuss the latest trends in gathering garbage, storing trash, and how to dispose of the leftovers that could contain toxic materials.
One article, in particular, caught my attention and I remember the broad outlines of the story today which as you will see is pertinent to today’s discussion on wetlands.
A town in California needed a new water treatment plan maybe a sewage treatment plant. The estimate for a new facility was around $52 million dollars, costly for any town at that time., mid-1980’s. So, other options were investigated.
For significantly less money, between $2-5 million, folks realized that the landscape of the town and the surrounding area contained miles of marshland. They could develop a waterway system that kept the wetlands intact and at the same time collect purified water at the end of the line. Somehow, folks back then had the vision to realize that at least seven miles of marshland can filter and recharge water. My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, reminded me of this story as I thought about the different types of wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide.
Basically, wetlands catch water from the surrounding areas, usually runoff from lawns and agricultural land uses. They capture nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides to name a few. These components deposit into the sediment at the bottom of the wetland. Then plants can absorb these elements and convert them into plant matter. When this happens in the summertime, wetlands prevent contamination downstream.
“Wetlands are superb at purifying polluted water, replenishing aquifers and harbouring wildlife. But they are almost always terrible places to build houses. Only about 5 percent of the land area in the continental United States is composed of wetlands. But these transitional zones—neither completely dry nor entirely liquid—are enormously valuable, especially when it comes to controlling floods. Wetlands act like natural sponges on the landscape, absorbing and then gradually releasing storm waters and lessening flood damage.” John Mossbarger, La Jolla CA, in Scientific American also adds this: “Wetlands serve as primary habitat for thousands of wildlife species—from ducks to beavers to insects—and form an important ecosystem link between land and water. They also play a key role in maintaining water quality, as they filter out agricultural nutrients and absorb sediments so that municipal water supplies don’t have to. On and near shorelines, wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges and rising floodwaters, helping to disperse and absorb excess water before it can damage life and property.”
It’s estimated we have destroyed about 85% of our wetlands in this country. Wetlands: habitat for plants, animals, insects, offer water filtration and purification services, perfectly set up to manage flood areas. They provide invaluable ecosystem services and are precious.
The good news is that we are taking some measures to preserve what we have and what’s left.
What can you do? If you have wet areas on the property, learn how to manage them that preserves them. And, I just learned that there is World Wetland Day. This year its Feb 2nd. They have a great interactive website and educational materials available for you to use to promote awareness in your community.
When out on hikes or walking in your neighbourhoods, keep an eye out for marshy areas. Keep in mind how limited they are today and how precious their ecosystems are in today’s landscapes.