II. Defining Wetlands:

Wetlands are very powerful ecosystems they can take a lifeless landscape and turn it into a thriving system. Nature’s filters is one name wetlands are known by. The microbes on the roots of the plants are what clean the water.1 One example of how powerful wetlands are is a story about a town in Pennsylvania that couldn’t even grow grass because there was such much iron in the environment from the near by mine. Wetland treatment ponds were put in the watershed and eventually the water became livable again. Wetlands have a great capacity to clean water which is why the Lake Champlain basin should maintain or improve their wetlands.

Wetlands account for 25-50% of the biosphere’s total storage of carbon that is 540 gigatons of carbon even though wetlands account for only 3% of Earth’s land surface.2 This is important with the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere and climate change. Wetlands are good at storing carbon because they are under water and mostly anaerobic inhibiting plant material to fully decompose.3 The organic material that is unable to decompose keeps CO2 from being released to the atmosphere.

Flood control is another important service provided by wetlands. Wetlands reduce peak flow and distribute storm flows over longer periods of time than if there were no wetland because the water spreads out over the flat wetland.5  Wetland vegetation slows flow which reduces erosion.6 Wetlands can provide the same quality of flood control as levees or dredge operations can.6  The Mississippi River once had enough wetlands along its banks to retain floodwaters for up to 60 days but now most of those wetlands are filled and can only control 12 days worth of floodwater.6 In Wisconsin basins that had wetlands their flow contained 90% less sediment than basins without wetlands.5 In Minnesota the natural flood control service of 5000 acres of wetlands is said to be worth 1.5 million dollars annually.7

Filtering is one of the services that wetlands are best at wetlands can filter between 20-60% of metals, retain 80-90% sediments from runoff, and denitrify 70-90% that enters the wetland.4 Wetlands account for at least 50% of denitrification that occurs on land.7 Wetlands are basins for sediments. They slow the flow and the sediments sink to the bottom improving the quality of the water.

The US spends 2 billion dollars a year cleaning dirty water.4 New York City made the decision to clean the watershed that contains the water they use for 2 billion dollars instead of building a water treatment plant that would’ve cost New York City 8 billion dollars to build.4 New York City saved 6 billion dollars. It is easier to prevent pollution than clean it. Wetlands are also cheaper than other flood regulating measures like dikes and reservoirs.5 The 110 square mile Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina filters as much water as a 5 million dollar waste water treatment facility.6 A 2,500 acre wetland in Georgia was found to save a million dollars in water pollution costs annually. Michigan Tech discovered that for every acre of wetland that is a foot deep it provides 300 dollars in ecosystem services.8

In the Lake Champlain water basin wetlands are found through out. A Lake Champlain study in 1994 found 166 wetland of at least 50 acres.9  In total there is more than 300,000 acres of wetlands in the Lake Champlain water basin.10 Using Michigan Tech’s value assessment of wetlands valued at 300 dollars an acre and assuming that all wetlands in the Lake Champlain water basin are a foot deep even though in reality they likely vary a great deal the value of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands is worth 90,000,000 dollars. In Vermont spring time is an important time for wetlands because of the snow melt. Snow is a great accumulator of atmospheric pollutants so when the snow melts there is a high concentration of pollutants this concentrated flow of pollutants is known as an acid flush.11 Wetlands play an important role in controlling snow melt as shown earlier wetlands reduce flow and flooding but also cleans pollutants with which snow melt is loaded with. Wetlands provide many services so it is important we maintain or increase their viability.

References:

1.Von Wedel, Randall, Rufus Chaney, and Doug Kepler. 2004. Nature’s Operating Instruction. San Francisco: Sierra Book Club, 57-65.

2.Wylynko, David, (1999) Prairie Wetlands and Carbon sequestration Assessing Sinks Under The Kyoto Protocol. International Institute for Sustainable Development,Retrieved from: http://www.iisd.org/wetlands/wrkshp_summ.pdf

3.Schlesinger, W.H. (1997). Biogeochemistry an Analysis of Global Change. The global Cycles of Nitrogen and Phosphorus (pg 383-400) San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

4.CES – Ecosystem Services Fact Sheets: Water Purification.The Ecological Society of America {ESA}. Retrieved from: http://www.esa.org/ecoservices/comm/body.comm.fact.wate.html

5.Carter, Virginia. (1997) Technical Aspects of Wetlands Wetland Hydrology, Water Quality, and Associated Functions. USGS, Retrieved from: http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/hydrology.html

6.Wetlands and People, (2009, Janurary 12nd). EPA,Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/OWOW/wetlands/vital/people.html

7.Wetland Functions and Values [PowerPoint Slides].Retrieved from: http://www.wetland.org/101/WET101B.pdf

8.How Much Money Can Wetlands Save People?, Michigan Tech University. Retrieved from: http://techalive.mtu.edu/meec/module12/SavingMoney.htm

9.”LCC: Natural History ~ In Brief.”LCC: The Lake Champlain Committee – Working for a Healthy, Accessible Lake Champlain. Retrieved from: http://www.lakechamplaincommittee.org/learn/natural-history-lake-champlain/#c176

10.Wetlands in the Lake Champlain Water Basin, Lake Champlain Basin Program. Fact Sheet Series, Number 4.

11.Woolgrove, C.E. Woodin, J. (1996), Effects of Pollutants in Snowmelt on Kiaeria Starkei, a Characteristic Species of Late Snowbed Bryophyte Dominated Vegetation. New Phytologist, 133. (pg519-529) Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2558504

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