Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

bos2PA Environmental Council’s Interactive Water Resource Mapping System Now Online

PA Environment Digest Blog – July 19, 2016
The PA Environmental Council Tuesday unveiled a new website–– ( that allows the public to identify water quality impaired streams, illegal dumpsites, areas covered by stormwater management plans and much more. For full blog post, click here.

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wppOur Dangerous Conservation Crisis

By Dan Ashe – Field & Stream – July 20, 2016
Editor’s note: At the TRCP’s presidential campaign forum in Colorado last month, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe gave a speech that stunned those in attendance. A version of the speech that Ashe had originally delivered at this year’s North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Management Conference, it wasn’t just another recounting of the uncertain state of fish and wildlife these days. Instead, it was a literal, and moving, demand to take action. Ashe pointed out that unless hunters and fishermen conscientiously work to get new people involved in our pursuits, fish and wildlife will soon become irrelevant to America. For full blog post, click here.

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final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Summer Intern, ASWM

I began my summer internship with the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) just a few weeks ago and I am amazed with all of the interesting information about wetlands I have learned about already. Of course there are the very important basics about wetland functions and their immense ability to filter and improve water quality, retain flood water, and provide living habitats for many species of animals, among other things. Because of this, it seems obvious healthywaters1to me that wetlands should be valued and safeguarded due to the vast amounts of benefits they offer societies around the world. Fortunately, there are laws and policies in place in the United States that enable the protection and restoration of these vital resources and there are also many wonderful citizens who come together to work toward these goals (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).

Even with all of the science and knowledge proving their significance, however, I am learning that many still view wetlands as agricultural or waste areas or unimportant locations that can and should be altered in order to use the land for development purposes. In fact, most of the history of our nation’s wetlands proves quite shocking to me as to how negatively wetlands have been viewed within human society and I would like to share the information I have learned with you in the case that you, too, do not know the history of the relationship this Nation has had with its great wetlands.

swamp1Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, citizens and policy makers were focused on draining and filling wetlands or “swamps.” Wetlands were perceived to serve no purpose. They were seen as “evil,” “dismal,” and “depressing,” and were believed to be full of malaria and disease (Horton, 1999; Cech, 2010). In these early times, people found that once most of the water was drained from the “swamp” areas, the land became much more fertile for agricultural growth. Due to these findings, they developed innovative ways to effectively drain these wetland areas to “reclaim” the land for more economical purposes and they set out actively to eradicate as many wetlands as they could in the lower 48 states. The first thing they did was establish “Swamp Land Acts” that legally distributed the ownership of the “swamp lands” to the states where they were located (prior to this the federal government had ownership of these lands). States and private owners were granted full permission and control to drain and fill them as they saw fit in order to convert them into usable land (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1907, p. 8, 9; Connolly, Johnson & Williams, 2005, p. 3).

soil1Once in the hands of private land owners and the states, people got very creative in coming up with successful ways to drain wetlands in order to increase their agricultural farm yields. I watched a webinar that ASWM has posted to their website by a guest speaker, Tom Biebighauser, called A History of Wetland Drainage: How They Pulled the Plug and I learned about great historical innovations used to drain and fill wetlands. For example, early farmers found ways to plough the soil into ridges in order to plant on higher ground so that they would not drown their crops. This grew into techniques where they would either dig manually or plough the ground into deep, far reaching ditches using tools such as a mule scoop, which is a very large rounded scoop shovel.

The ditches would extend the entire length of the “great dismal land” (i.e. wetland) and would empty into nearby streams or rivers. In Virginia these ditches were dug by companies called “Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp” and “The Dismal Swamp Land Company” that were spear headed by our great founding father, President George Washington, himself! Many of the ditches dug by Washington’s companies remain intact to this day. They now resemble natural streams, though they do not function as natural streams would, partly because they lack the usual ripples, pools and other natural features found in real streams.

clay2Another interesting and pivotal invention in the history of the destruction of wetlands was by a Scottish farmer named John Johnson who devised groundbreaking (no pun intended) wetland drainage techniques by placing clay pipes under the ground. By doing this, he quickly and successfully drew vast amounts of water away from the land that he used for agricultural purposes and almost immediately yielded greater crops. Many other farmers quickly caught on to this technique and it became very popular (ASWM, 2015).

To accommodate all of the excess water it was common practice to alter natural streams. They would do this by straightening and channelling the streams so that they could hold the excess water that was being drained dredging2into them. Typically, these activities were done by using tools such as dredges and explosives (ASWM, 2015). A document from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1907) discusses recommendations to the states regarding managing “swamp and overflowed lands in the united states.” The document points out “to secure an adequate outlet for draining, it is frequently necessary to improve natural streams, by widening, straightening, and deepening, and to construct new channels where none exist, or to build levees or embankments on private property (p. 11).” These activities were encouraged by the Federal Government and were presented as the best ways for states to handle these situations.

It is startling to me that an estimated 11% of the lower 48 were wetlands prior to the arrival of European pioneers and now that number is reduced to an estimated 5%, with many of the remaining wetlands in poor health (Horton, 1999; Cech, 2010). That means that over 50% of our Nation’s wetlands and their priceless benefits are now gone. I knew that wetlands were not always honored but I had no idea the extent to which our nation had supported actions that removed them from the landscape.

wetlandloss3On a positive note, however, even though early history in the United States acted counterproductively toward the health and protection of wetlands, great strides have also been made toward their safeguarding. As mentioned above, with the growing knowledge of the significance of these vital resources, new policies and laws have been put in place to restore wetlands and to protect and care for the ones we have left. I am excited to further my education regarding the history of legislation in this country that has aided in the protection of wetlands and I invite you to stay tuned for some more blogs from Counting Cattails so that you may follow me in my journey!


Association of State Wetland Managers. (2015, October 2). A history of wetland drainage: how they pulled the plug [Webinar]. In Improving Wetland Restoration Success Project Series.

Cech, T. (2010). Wetlands and wildlife. In Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management, and Policy.

Connolly, K., Johnson, S., & Williams. (2005). Wetlands law and policy: Understanding section 404. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

Horton, T. (1999, March 12). U.S. views on wetlands vary through the years. The Baltimore Sun.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (1907). Swamp and overflowed lands in the United States: Ownership and reclamation (Office of Experiment Stations—Circular 76). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2002, March). Functions and values of wetlands. (EPA 843-F-01-002-c).

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wppThe Time to Invest in America’s Water Infrastructure is Now

By Jim Gebhardt, CFA – EPA Blog – Our Planet, Our Home – July 12, 2016
Communities across the country are facing the immediate challenges of aging and inadequate drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of our country’s underground water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago, and in some older cities, water mains are a century old. The implications of deteriorating infrastructure can be felt nationwide— each year our country experiences about 240,000 water main breaks, $2.6 billion is lost as our water mains leak trillions of gallons of treated drinking water, and billions of gallons of raw sewage are discharged into local surface waters from aging sewer overflows. For full blog post, click here.

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bos2The Oil Spill Cleanup Illusion

By Andrew Nikiforuk – Hakai Magazine – July 12, 2016
When the Deepwater Horizon well operated by BP (formerly British Petroleum) exploded and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with at least 650 million liters of crude oil in 2010, blue-smocked animal rescuers quickly appeared on television screens. Looking like scrub nurses, the responders treated oil-coated birds with charcoal solutions, antibiotics, and dish soap. They also forced the birds to swallow Pepto-Bismol, which helps absorb hydrocarbons. The familiar, if not outlandish, images suggested that something was being cleaned up. For full article, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

In early July 2016, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released a GIS map of public waters and public ditches requiring permanent vegetative buffers or alternative water quality practices. The buffer map shows landowners and local governments where protective vegetative buffers of 16.5 feet or an average of 50 feet are required, as approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015 and revised in 2016. The map can be viewed here.

Specifically, the maps depict:

  • Public ditches requiring 16.5 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • Public waters requiring 50 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • A few sites labeled as “needs field review,” which will be resolved in a future map update

mnbuffermapThe statewide map was completed following an extensive public input process to ensure the accuracy of the maps by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The public review process resulted in thousands of comments and almost 1500 corrections. There will be an ongoing process for additional corrections. The map includes 60,000 miles of public ditches and waters subject to the buffer protection requirements. The completion of the buffer map by the state starts the implementation phase which will be carried out by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs), and other local governments, who will work with landowners on any questions about buffers or alternative water quality practices.

Minnesota’s interest in protecting the areas along streams—often called riparian areas– with buffers is not unique. Other states have in place or are pursuing efforts to support protection of riparian zones. While the Association of State Wetland Managers has not explored the full extent of these activities, the importance of protection of streamside (riparian) areas was brought up by a number of states during disucssions that occurred in development to the “Status and Trends Report on State Wetland Programs in the United States” and individual state summaries as well as an earlier “Report on State Definitions, Jurisdiction and Mitigation Requirements in State Programs for Ephemeral, Intermittent and Perennial Streams in the United States.”

In support of these efforts, the Association of State Wetland Managers published two new reports this spring to assist states, local government and other parties in understanding what riparian areas are, why they are important and actions that can be taken to protect them by federal, state, local, and tribal government including a model ordinance.

restoring030916The first publication: “Protecting and Restoring Riparian Areas” gives an overview of riparian areas and covers the reasons for protecting riparian areas from the perspectives of 1) water quality/habitat protection, 2) flood hazard risk reduction and 3) private landowner liability concerns. Often individual agency staff or others interested in protecting riparian areas may be considering only one of these aspects. The likelihood of developing sensible programs that protect riparian areas as well as public trust and private landowner interests is greater if all these reasons for protecting riparian areas are considered as part of program development. The report identifies actions that can be taken by federal, state and local government to protect riparian areas. The second publication “Model ‘Riparian’ Protection Ordinance” provides the formal language that could be used in an modelriparian030916ordinance. The model ordinance in this publication is based on language already in use in existing local riparian, floodplain and wetland ordinances. This ‘model’ language is available as a resource to aid local government and other groups interested in the adoption of a local program to protect riparian areas. However, before a local government adopts any model ordinance language including the one provided here, it must be revised and integrated to fit with other relevant laws and ordinances. It should also be fully vetted with local citizens to ensure everyone understands the purpose and provisions for carrying out the ordinance.

The areas adjacent to rivers and streams throughout the United States are very important for a long list of reasons including: flood attenuation and conveyance, erosion reduction, groundwater protection, pollution prevention/treatment, wildlife habitat protection, and recreation opportunities. They are also often areas of historical and archaeological importance. Riparian areas are also subject to intense development pressure and alteration in both urban and rural areas.

In the coming years it is anticipated that there will be greater attention to the land management decisions made in riparian areas and as an increasing number of states are beginning to look more closely at the reasons that additional protection of these areas is merited. The Association of State Wetland Managers will continue to share information about the importance of these and other aquatic resources as well as resources and tools available, including a webinar on state buffer programs later in the fall of 2016.

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bos2Citizens’ Advisory Committee works to elevate voices of watershed residents

Chesapeake Bay News – July 5, 2016
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) has a unique role in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program established the CAC in 1984 as a means for citizens to express their recommendations and concerns on the cleanup effort to our political leaders. The members—non-paid volunteers appointed by the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Mayor of the District of Columbia; and the Board of the Directors of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—reflect a sample of diverse stakeholders and bring their experiences and insights to the Chesapeake Executive Council. For full blog post, click here.

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wppDelmarva down to its last few nutria thanks to eradication project

By Kathy Reshetiloff – Bay Journal – July 1, 2016
There is a light at the end of the tunnel as the fight to eradicate nutria from the Delmarva Peninsula nears the final phases. Nutria, South American aquatic rodents about the size of small beavers, were introduced to the Maryland part of the peninsula in the 1940s for fur trading. Since their introduction, nutria have wreaked havoc on thousands of acres of marshland on the peninsula through their destructive feeding habits. Nutria literally consume wetlands, eating roots and plants and ripping out vegetation to create resting platforms. These voracious rodents create circles of mud flats, called “eat outs,” which eventually become open water. For full article, click here.

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For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan with about 1,000 other folks from a variety of professional backgrounds. The common theme that brought us all together was, of course, floodplain management. This year marks the 40th marlaanddave070616Anniversary of ASFPM and it was interesting to see and hear how profoundly the practice of floodplain management has changed over time.

Flood control used to be primarily about – you guessed it – controlling floods. Flooding was typically viewed as a nuisance seen through the lens of hazard management. Rivers were dammed, leveed, moved and channelized – floodplains were filled – all to encourage and protect development, agriculture and the people who worked and lived in floodplain areas. The 100 year flood event was the level of risk that we prepared for. These days the strategy has changed. Climate change is driving an increase in the intensity of precipitation events and increasing the frequency of disastrous floods. Thus we are discovering that we need to rethink our “command and control” approach to floodplain management and instead find innovative ways to manage excess water – or in other words, work with nature, not against nature.

Grand Rapids itself has done a 360 degree shift in regard to how the city manages its floodwaters. In 2003, the city spent $10 million to add an extra foot of protection to existing floodwalls, although FEMA still wanted them to add more. And then ten years later in 2013, the Grand River, which runs through downtown Grand Rapids crested at grandrapids07061621.85 feet – the highest water levels charted in Grand Rapid’s history – and was gushing at approximately 37,000 cubic feet of water per second. Although the river never reached the height of the floodwall – it was still about three feet shy – the city still had to spend another $500,000 to manage the resultant flood damage. And the possibility that it could have crested over the floodwall was very real – fortunately the weather forecast for another 4” of rain never materialized.

Grand Rapids is a growing city and the entire watershed in which it is situated is witnessing significant development pressures. This has resulted in the expansion of impervious surfaces (parking lots, roads, buildings, etc.) that cause water to runoff the land instead of being absorbed into the ground. This runoff water, aka stormwater, is then channeled into streams, creeks, drainage ditches and smaller rivers. All of these eventually feed into the Grand River which raises the water level of the Grand River even higher.

conventioncenter070616Hard infrastructure solutions such as levees and floodwalls can be very effective – of that there is no doubt. But we are discovering that they can also have many unintended consequences for communities downstream and upstream. The neighboring communities of Grand Rapids, Grandville and Comstock Park’s Abrigador Trail, were inundated by major flooding during the 2013 event. Grand Rapids’ floodwalls created a channel that increased the river’s velocity before it hit the iconic arched bridges that span the Great River downtown. The bridges pillars slowed the river’s flow essentially causing some of the rushing water to back-up into neighboring towns. According to the USGS, “structures that encroach on the floodplain, such as bridges, can increase upstream flooding by narrowing the width of the channel and increasing the channel’s resistance to flow.” And American Rivers reports that the unnatural channel created by floodwalls cause water to rise higher and faster than it normally would, which “lead to more powerful and rapid flooding downstream, or creates a bottleneck which causes flooding upstream.” And what would have happened if the floodwall breached or overtopped? The consequences would have been catastrophic.

Fast forward to today. The City of Grand Rapids has recently completed a “GR Forward Community Plan and Investment Strategy” with a chapter on “Restore the River as the Draw & Create a Connected & Equitable River Corridor.” According to the report, “the annual average rainfall in Grand Rapids has increased by 16% in the last 60 years and this lyonriver1trend is expected to continue or possibly increase.”  It goes on to explain their new approach to floodplain management -  “Rather than floodwalls like those created in previous generations, the approach is to use landscape design as a method of reaching the critical elevations necessary to achieve flood protection and create an amenity along the Grand River corridor.” Truly a radical departure from past practices.

Wetland managers have a critical role to play in the future of floodplain management. More than 80% of wetlands are located in floodplains. The unique ecosystem services that wetlands provide are critical for reducing the impact of floods. Wetlands function as rivertrail070616natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, snowmelt, groundwater and flood waters. Wetlands within and downstream of urban areas are particularly valuable, counteracting the greatly increased rate and volume of surface- water runoff from pavement and buildings.

Despite the many benefits that wetlands provide to support climate change mitigation and adaptation, they have historically been excluded from policy decisions regarding floodplain management, stormwater, water quality, and hazard mitigation, partly because many of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands are not directly bought or sold on the market and therefore have not or cannot be directly calculated in terms of dollars. But that is fortunately starting to change with new innovative economic frameworks that are being developed to account for these important ecosystem services. Part of the problem also has to do with federal, state and local agencies that operate in isolation from each other – the unintended consequence of laws that were developed long ago during a time of program specialization. Narrowly focused missions and agency priorities segregate natural resource management decisions into policies and actions that inhibit a broader consideration of the movement of water across the landscape on a watershed scale and the impact of decisions on upstream and downstream hydrology.

epa070616The good news is that some state agencies are already beginning to do the hard work of program integration (e.g., Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Vermont). By using a watershed approach we can comprehensively address the impacts of climate change and maximize our use of the natural and beneficial functions of wetlands in floodplains to provide cost-competitive solutions that maximize benefits for humans and nature. Water quality and quantity are at risk under every climate change scenario.

So for Peat’s Sake, innovation is the key to solving many of our problems and it will be critical in order to provide increased flood and drought protection, provide clean drinking water, and maintain habitat under changing climatic conditions. Traditional wetland protection and restoration programs as well as hybrid systems using green infrastructure will both be needed to support overall watershed health. Ecosystem valuation can enhance the decision making process when considering alternative approaches. To efficiently develop these projects, however, the various programs that manage wetlands, water quality, flood protection and habitat need to pursue innovative ways to integrate their efforts, including leveraging the ecosystem services provided by natural resources such as wetlands. The benefits of integrating these programs will provide strategic opportunities to maximize multiple benefits and program efficiencies.

References & Resources:

City of Grand Rapids Green Infrastructure Program info

City of Grand Rapids “GR Forward Community Plan and Investment Strategy” chapter on “Restore the River as the Draw & Create a Connected & Equitable River Corridor

ASWM webpage on Floods & Natural Hazards

The Natural Floodplain Functions Alliance webpage

The Association of State Floodplain Managers website

Grand Rapids Flooding At Record Level, State Of Emergency Declared In West Michigan City” news story

2013 Flood: Experts describe how close Grand Rapids was to crippling floodwall breach” news story

Posted in adaptation, climate change, Ecological Restoration, ecosystem services, flooding, floodplains, green infrastructure, natural hazards, resiliency, stormwater, watershed management, wetland management | Leave a comment

wppNon-Native, Invasive Species for Dinner? Bring Out the Melted Butter!

By Marcia Anderson – The EPA Blog – June 21, 2016
Recently, I discovered some really tasty invasive species on the dinner menu in lower Manhattan. Many non-native species can be really good eating if they can be caught and properly prepared. There is an innovative movement for eating invasive species taking place and they are showing up more and more on restaurant menus. For full blog post, click here.

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