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

chriscraft73015An interview with Dr. Chris Craft, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

Tidal salt marshes have an amazing capacity to help the environment. In addition to providing a wildlife habitat and improving water quality, the marshes accumulate and sequester carbon in vegetation and soil. But what if the act of managing those marshes diminishes their capacity to better our environment or alters their carbon footprint, the balance between the carbon they absorb versus what they release? What if there is no net gain?

Four researchers associated with Indiana University set out to answer that question. They compared carbon sequestration at tidal salt marshes in the northeast U.S. managed with open marsh water management (OMWM) with unmanaged marshes at four U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuges located in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

The project was led by Dr. Chris Craft of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and director of the Wetlands Lab.

Q.  What is the role of wetlands and wetland management on carbon storage, greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to global warming?

A.  All wetlands sequester carbon (C), much more so than terrestrial ecosystems like forests and grasslands. However, freshwater wetlands also emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more potent or heat storing than carbon dioxide. In contrast, tidal salt marshes and other saline wetlands like mangroves sequester C but they release little methane. So, in addition to their well recognized value as habitat for finfish, shellfish and water birds and for water quality improvement, they help offset greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Managers of public lands such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversee vast acreages of coastal wetlands and much of it is salt marsh.  In the northeastern U.S., much this habitat was drained and ditched for mosquito control in the past.  Activities such as Open Water Marsh Management (OWMM) whereby ditches are plugged to retain water on the marsh can enhance C sequestration and also improve access to the marsh by finfish and wading birds but with negligible release of methane. Other management activities such as breaching dikes or removing fill can provide the same benefits.

Q.  One of the consequences of global warming is expected to be increasing sea levels as ocean surface waters warm and expand and ice sheets melt. How should coastal wetland managers prepare?

A.  Sea level is expected to rise in the coming century and managers should be thinking about it now.  Based on our findings, most salt marshes of the northeast are keeping pace with the current rate of sea level rise. That is the good news. The bad news is that some marshes along the New Jersey coast are not keeping pace with the current rate of sea level rise so they are certainly at risk if sea level rise accelerates.

The most important consideration for managers is to plan ahead, recognizing that sea level will continue to rise and set aside land upstream so tidal wetlands can migrate inland and upriver. Of course, this will be difficult in areas of the northeast that are densely populated and where the urban environment, sea walls and other man-made hard structures restrict their migration.

mangroveswetlands73015Q.  How do your findings inform us when it comes to setting sound public policy as it relates to future management of coastal wetlands?

A.  There is increasing interest in carbon trading programs, both in Europe and the U.S. However, there is a lot of reluctance on the part of policy makers to move forward with these programs though some states such as California are moving ahead on their own. Assuming carbon trading programs get traction, coastal land managers may be able to use the tools described above, OWMM and others, to increase carbon sequestration on their lands to offset their carbon footprint (e.g. their fossil fuel use) and still maintain other important ecosystem services like habitat and water quality improvement. They may even be able to sell carbon credits to others (which could help pay down the national debt. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be nearly enough).

The research is described in depth in the article “Carbon Sequestration in Tidal Salt Marshes of the Northeast United States” in the journal Environmental Management. It was authored by Katherine Drake, Holly Halifax, Susan Adamowicz and Craft. Drake is a 2015 graduate of IU’s Master of Science in Environmental Science program. She works with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and, in the fall, will join the Nature Conservancy as a Restoration Specialist working with the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund. Halifax is an analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Adamowicz is the Land Management Research and Demonstration Biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stationed at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Turtle Hotspots Identified Around the World Contain Diverse Species and Richness

Environmental News Network – July 15, 2015
Global biodiversity is becoming more threatened as the human population continues to grow and use the world’s resources. Turtles have the misfortune of being on the leading edge of biodiversity decline and serve as an indicator of ecosystem degradation. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereToday’s water laws encourage waste. Can big data help shape better ones?

ProPublica
“Use it or lose it” water policies — a cornerstone of water rights laws across the West — are encouraging ranchers and others to use precious water supplies whether they truly need them or not. How is this century-old policy affecting the drought? Are these policies effective? For full story, click here.

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

I had the good fortune in late June to spend a week on Long Pond in Mt. Vernon, Maine. It is one of seven lakes that comprise the Belgrade Lakes Region in Maine. And it’s where the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond” was based. That has always been one of my favorite movies (which won 3 Academy Awards, by the way) I’ve had a desire to visit the area most of my life.

longpondMost folks up here have a second home that has been in the family for generations and that they affectionately call their “camp.” For many “real Mainahs”, that means it’s a rustic, off-the grid, cabin that is on one of the many, many inland lakes we have in our state. But for others, it can be a bit fancier, with running water, electricity and indoor plumbing. We don’t actually have one of our own, but we enjoy renting for a long-weekend or a week vacation at one through HomeAway.com or Airbnb.com every year. It’s a great way to affordably enjoy the Maine lake experience.

In Maine, they call it “going upta camp.” Not having grown up in Maine, I was taken back a bit the first time I heard that phrase. My experience with going to camp was as a child and it meant that I was dropped off at a Girl Scout camp for a couple of weeks in the middle of a smoldering summer with a bunch of other pre-teens while my parents enjoyed some solitude. So it struck me as odd that grown adults were telling me they were going up to camp. But I have grown to appreciate this rich Maine tradition.

largemouthbassThe Belgrade Lakes are truly beautiful. The water on Long Pond was crystal clear and from what I understand, all the Belgrade lakes have excellent fishing year-round. You can find Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Salmon, Smelt, Pickerel, Northern Pike and White Perch. I can attest that our neighborhood Great Blue Heron thought the fishing on Long Pond was second to none.

Not surprisingly (and somewhat unfortunately) because it is such a beautiful area, there are a lot of camps in close proximity to each other around Long Pond. I assume the other 6 lakes in the region are struggling with the same amount of lakefront development. According to an article by Dr. Denise Bruesewitz at Colby College, Maine lakes “are facing increasing pressures from human activities, and recent studies show that water quality of many Maine lakes is in decline.” In Maine and across New England, a species of cyanobacteria called Gloeotrichia echinulata (and sadly, no, it’s not a new tasty enchilada dish) is increasingly common in low nutrient lakes. Historically, cyanobacteria, also called “blue-green algae,” have been associated with algal blooms in the nutrient rich (eutrophic) lakes. So the appearance of the sometimes toxic phylum of bacteria in nutrient poor (oligotrophic-mesotrophic) lakes is disturbing. And much to my dismay, the article mentions that it typically occurs in “low nutrient systems like Long Pond.” Sigh.

The good news is that the Maine Water Resources Research Institute is funding a research project by Colby College and Bigelow Laboratory to take a closer look at the bacterial blooms on Long Pond and Great Pond this summer. And many camp owners are doing their best to keep the lakes clean and healthy through the LakeSmart Program that was introduced by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2004 and is currently run by the Maine Lakes Society. While kayaking around Long Pond, my partner and I noticed several camps that had LakeSmart signs on their property so I did a little research into the program.

lakesmartawardThe LakeSmart Program relies on the fact that human behavior is strongly influenced by the behavior of their friends, families, and neighbors. It a form of recognition for lakefront property owners who maintain their shorefront sustainably, managing stormwater on site and prevent flows of septic effluent from entering the lakes. The Maine Lakes Society believes that the program will “exemplify what lake-friendly living looks like, arouse interest that initiates education, and motivate similar behavior by other members of the lakeside community.” As I wrote about in a blog last summer (The Benefits of “Show” vs “Tell”) this can be a very effective strategy and inexpensive because it leverages the power and influence of stakeholders in the community to influence others’ behavior. And it has been incredibly successful. Since the Maine Lakes Society assumed administration of the program in 2009, it has grown 300% and administration costs have been cut in half.

So when you are thinking about ways to improve your wetland management programs, don’t discount the power of peers. Finding one or two local champions for your cause can make a huge difference. We can’t always influence the behavior of those we don’t know, but we can often do so with those who are close to us. So For Peat’s Sake, start small and build relationships with a few key leaders in the community. The trust and momentum that you build with them can often be a very effective outreach effort.

Posted in algal bloom, Maine, nutrient pollution, outreach, resource management, stewardship, water quality, wetland management | Tagged | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereWith One-Third of Largest Aquifers Highly Stressed, It’s Time to Explore and Assess the Planet’s Groundwater

By Sandra Postel – National Geographic – July 9, 2015
“[I]n most cases, we do not know how much groundwater exists in storage,” write the authors of a study published last month in Water Resources Research (WRR), a journal of the American Geophysical Union. As a result, we’re clueless about how long we can keep drawing down these water reserves before they run out. And we are indeed drawing many of them down. For full article, click here.

 

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Forecasting dead zones and toxic algae in US waterways: a bad year for Lake Erie

By Donald Scavia – The Conversation – July 14, 2015
Over the past two decades, scientists have developed ways to predict how ecosystems will react to changing environmental conditions. Called ecological forecasts, these emerging tools, if used effectively, can help reduce pollution to our waterways. For full story, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Can municipalities really still be dumping untreated sewage directly from a pipe into local bays, rivers, streams and wetlands?  Shouldn’t that be impossible in today’s regulatory environment?  Unfortunately, it is not.  Combined sewer systems that dump sewage-containing wastewater along with stormwater into local water bodies are found in 32 states, located in nine EPA regions.  Most are found in Northeast, Great Lakes Region and Pacific Northwest states.   While these combined systems are regulated under the Clean Water Act, the nearly 900 billion gallons of often-polluted overflow released from them have a documented adverse impact on the nation’s waters, including wetlands.

seweroverflow71615

A Combined Sewer System (CSS) is a wastewater collection system owned by a state or municipality that is specifically designed to collect and convey both sanitary wastewater (including residential, industrial and commercial wastewater that may include sewage) and stormwater through a single piped system.  These pipes discharge directly to surface nydep715161waters (streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, ponds) when collection capacity is exceeded during high level precipitation events (EPA, 2002).  These overflows, when they occur, are called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs).   Combined systems are an artifact of 19th Century planning, which focused on getting rain water and sewage out of population centers as quickly and cost effectively as possible, with little consideration for downstream impacts.

There are significant public health and environmental impacts for CSO receiving waters.  Common pollutants transported when sewer systems overflow include:

  • Bacteria, viruses and protozoa
  • Organic compounds, metals, oil and grease and toxic pollutants
  • Biochemical oxygen demands (BOD)
  • Sediment
  • Trash and floating debris, and
  • Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus, for example)

Compared to surface water runoffs in separated sewer systems, CSOs are highly polluted with carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.  These pollutants can lead to a variety of adverse public health effects, as well as beach and shellfish bed closures, contamination of drinking water sources, devaluation of property, aquatic habitat impairment, fishing restrictions, reduced oxygen levels and fish kills, unpleasant odors, aesthetic impairment, and algal blooms.

Although wetlands alone cannot solve the CSO problem (See a list of actions to address combined sewer overflows in EPA Region 2’s publication Keeping Raw Sewage & Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water, page. 7), there are important roles that wetlands can play in addressing it.

First, CSO communities need to stop the filling of natural wetlands.  Filling in wetlands reduces opportunities for rainfall and snowmelt infiltration, adding to the volume of water entering the storm sewer system and leading to more overflow.  Working to protect and restore natural wetlands in critical CSO  watersheds will reduce the amount of surface flow entering the CSO system, especially when wetland protection is combined with green infrastructure efforts that reduce impervious cover simultaneously.

wetlandrestoration71615Second, practitioners in the U.S. and internationally have successfully used the restoration of filled wetlands to contain and treat CSO effluent.  These restored natural biofilters are used to treat pollutants like heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are often contributed by high traffic street surfaces present in most CSO communities.

Success of these efforts is generally dictated by the proximity/location of the restored wetland to the nonpoint source pollution, the wetland basin and its hydrology.  When restored properly, restored wetlands can provide a favorable chemical, biological, and physical environment for pollutant removal, including the bio-transformation of agricultural nonpoint source (surface runoff) nitrogen pollutants into Nitrogen gasses.  To address specific CSO needs, the restored wetland needs to be designed to retain “the contaminant of greatest local concern that requires the longest retention time for degradation and the percentage reduction of the contaminant required by law and/or regulation” (Environmental Finance Center, 2006).  For these projects, many types of wetlands are eliminated — those that are natural and undisturbed, those with a watershed to wetland water surface area of 10:1 or greater, those with retention times less than a day and many others. EPA’s Urban and Rural Treatment Wetlands Manual provides basic guidance on sizing and siting restored wetlands for water quality treatment, while a range of agency and industry documents provide extensive design guidance and case studies. 

harborbrook071615Third, constructed wetlands can be developed to mimic the water pollution filtration functions of a natural wetland.  Constructed wetlands are “planned systems designed and constructed to employ wetland vegetation to assist in treating wastewater in a more controlled environment than occurs in natural wetlands.”  These can be engineered to have surface flow or to only have subsurface flow.  Unlike natural wetland restoration efforts, constructed wetlands provide flexibility in site location, can be optimized to accommodate the specific amount of planned wastewater, and (due to their function-focused design) can often treat more wastewater in a smaller area than natural wetlands.  Perhaps more importantly, the use of constructed wetlands enable avoidance of impacts to natural wetlands.

In the stormwater world, constructed wetlands are referred to as “structural best practices” and have been tested extensively by researchers and industry experts.  For example, the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center has tested various treatment options and found gravel wetlands to perform at a much higher level than other alternatives (such as bioretention ponds and manufactured structural treatment devices).  While much of the work of wetland managers is disconnected from efforts related to constructed wetlands, clearly wetland experts can provide guidance on wetland structure and functions that have potential to improve treatment success.

statenisland71615Fourth, while it may seem that this is an either-or decision, the reality is that an increasing number of communities are selecting to marry their gray and green infrastructure and design creative (and highly effective) CSO and stormwater management plans that include all three wetland elements — wetlands protection, wetland restoration, AND constructed wetlands in one integrated system.  Examples of this work can be found in the Staten Island Bluebelt, Philadelphia’s Green City Clean Waters Initiative, Chicago’s Stormwater Green Infrastucture Strategy and smaller CSO communities like Washington, Indiana.

juni71615Finally, it is important to remember that CSOs are intensely weather-dependent, with increased releases of polluted waters from CSOs accompanying larger rain events.  Recent trends in rainfall often attributed to climate change, create an additional challenge for the management of CSOs.  With the frequency of high volume precipitation events growing in many regions of the United States, the need to find solutions that reduce the impacts of CSOs is increasing as well.  Investments in CSO control are already long-term and capital intensive.  Evidence is mounting that the integration of creative wetland-related elements may provide one of many cost-effective approaches to addressing the CSO issue. 

For more information about Combined Sewer Overflows, go here.

To review the findings of the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, go here.

For one set of guidance on decision making for urban and rural treatment wetlands go to the Environmental Finance Center’s document here.

For information on the impacts of climate change on CSOs download the following report here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad EPA?

By Katherine Bagley – Inside Climate News – February 26, 2015
The Environmental Protection Agency has been accused of everything from running this country to waging an economy-destroying war on coal. But it turns out the GOP’s prime target isn’t that big after all. The agency’s budget represents an almost invisible slice of the federal pie—less than a quarter of a percent of Obama’s proposed $4 trillion budget for the 2016 fiscal year. If approved, the EPA’s budget next year would be 16.5 percent smaller than it was in 2010. In a budget hearing Wednesday grilling Gina McCarthy, EPA’s administrator, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said the Obama EPA “has embarked on an expansive and expensive global warming regulatory agenda” that is bad for the country.
For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereCourt upholds EPA in putting Chesapeake Bay on ‘pollution diet’

By Timothy B. Wheeler – The Baltimore Sun – B’More Green – July 6, 2015
A federal appeals court upheld Monday the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to order pollution reductions by Maryland and all the other states that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. In a 60-page ruling, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia brushed aside challenges from agricultural and home building groups to the “pollution diet” that EPA imposed for the bay in 2010. For full blog post, click here.

 

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By Jeanne Christie

This week I went to adult surf camp. Summer surfing camps for minors have sprung up all over the country in recent years; and with them, opportunities for adults as well.  My class package was all inclusive.  It came with a wetsuit, surf board, beach chairs, snacks, beverages, a celebration dinner and instructors.

Day 1 was great. By the end of the first lesson I was managing to catch a wave and ride in lying flat on the board exhilarated with this modest success.  What I didn’t realize was how much my achievement had to do with the conditions: Intervals of a few good waves coming in at 8 seconds apart and periods of quiet in between to get back out beyond the surf for another wave.

waves1Day 2 was a different story.  Waves were 5 seconds apart and they never let up.  Getting myself and the board through the surf was an ordeal every time.  I would eventually emerge breathless, battered and on the far side of the surf, but feeling exhausted every time I made it back out beyond the waves to try again.  I made little progress with improving my surfing skills, but I did gather an interesting set of bruises.

It seems a little obvious in retrospect, but at the time I couldn’t believe how much difference a change in wave interval made.  Then I started thinking about wetlands.  I knew that wetlands attenuate storm surges and prevent erosion.  I had read it and even added it to my own work listing wetland benefits for years.  I realize suddenly that I had never thought very deeply, until I was standing there like a rootless wetland plant getting pounded, about how wave attenuation actually worked.

surge1

So I did a little research.

The strength of the wave hitting the coast (wave energy) is what determines its erosive potential.  Bigger waves, mean more erosion potential.

The second big variable is what the wave runs into as it advances towards shore: a slowly sloping beach? a quick, steep sloping beach? a rock cliff?  a flat vegetated wetland?  a concrete bulkhead?  A combination of one or more of these? Wave refraction concentrates or disperses the energy of a wave in response to the surfaces it encounters as it advances toward the shore.

marsh3Wetlands disperse wave energy.  They are flat, often extensive areas, reaching inland from the shore.  During storms, the flat contour of the wetland disperses energy. In addition wetland vegetation provides a rough surface that further breaks apart wave energy.  Large, continuous wetlands do a superior job of providing this service.

In contrast hardened, vertical surfaces such as cliffs and manmade bulkheads and seawalls actually increase the energy of waves and thereby increase coastal erosion.  To understand this I often think about standing on a sandy beach as the waves wash over my feet very quickly.  My feet and legs are a hard surface compared to the sand. After a few waves wash over my feet, they start to sink slightly as the sand around it washes away faster than the sand that is not lying against my feet.

But don’t take my word for it. To test out these ideas, a trip to the coast, preferably a beach, is definitely in order.  Go swimming. Play in the surf. Maybe sign up for your own adult surfing lessons. Don’t forget, this is a work assignment. Study the action of the lighthouse2waves.  Plow through the surf under different conditions.  Check the beach and surrounding area for signs of erosion.

My week of learning to surf was a fabulous and humbling experience.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but so much to look forward to.  Surfing is a great metaphor for life.  It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

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