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

by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

A week ago I had a long wait in a hospital room at Massachusetts Eye and Ear at Mass General Hospital in Boston while my nine-year old son was having a big operation. I am pleased to say that this first of several operations went extraordinarily well and they truly have some of the best surgeons in the world at Mass Eye and Ear. While I was waiting, I was able to take in the view from the 10th floor of the hospital and see Boston in all its glory — the Golden Dome of the state house, the tall buildings of downtown, and Beacon Hill. When we went up to the cafeteria, we could see a significant length of the Charles River, extending as far as the eye could see from the Museum of Science up to Harvard. As I took in the impressive urban vista, I noticed that something important had changed since I last lived in Boston in the 1990’s as Master’s student studying International Environmental Resource Management at Boston University and later as a professional working on environmental and health issues in the city.

I am sure that Boston has not changed its pace of living, its congestion, its noise, or its race for knowledge and invention, but Boston sure has changed in terms of its color. While Boston has always been known for its environmentalists and its innovation, Boston is much greener these days — not just in attitude but in actual color. Bursting with green roofs, river restoration projects, buffers, tree box planters and more, it was a pleasure to observe what an amazing transformation has occurred in Boston since the late 1990s. As I looked out the hospital window onto Mass General’s primary buildings, both were covered with green roofs. One was lush with green vegetation and the other with red plants, presumably a species that changes color with the seasons.

massgenWhen I last lived in Boston, solutions like this were mostly still on the drawing board. There were little pilot projects here and there, with “green groups” touting their benefits. They were largely untested, hugely expensive, and surely not the norm. Boston has always had a commitment to green open space. The Boston Common remains a glorious green centerpiece for the city, but now greening of the city is represented by so much more than isolated parks. Investments in restoring areas along the Charles River, reducing impervious surface and finding creative ways to address runoff are all paying off. The city has green roofs on several city-owned buildings, including on the 8th and 9th floors of City Hall and on city schools.

Today, in many American cities, natural infrastructure is being used to purify water, control water temperature, minimize sedimentation, regulate urban stormwater runoff and more. According to the Water Environment Federation (2013), “at least $1.32 trillion a year in water infrastructure investments are needed to keep up with business-as-usual, it has become increasingly important to consider how nature can substitute, safeguard, or complement engineered infrastructure projects in ways that are proven to be effective and cost-competitive.”

groundwaterOne of the major contributors to the “Greening of Boston” has been the Charles River Watershed Association’s Blue Cities Initiative. The Blue Cities Initiative focuses on restoring urban greenscapes and natural hydrologic function. The initiative builds plans for natural infrastructure using historic maps. CWRA analyzes opportunities for restoration by looking at how rainwater once functioned on the land before it became urbanized. They evaluate soil types, historic groundwater flow and historic versus constructed drainage patterns. With this knowledge, they help the city and private developers retrofit buildings, streets and parking lots to “capture and treat runoff, connect isolated greenspace, and create greenways.” The Blue Cities Initiative is helping people understand and capitalize on a variety of closely-related approaches, including Low Impact Development (LID), Green Buildings, Green Infrastructure, Green Corridors, and stormwater management. Tools range from targeted stream and river restoration, buffers and swales the incorporation of rain gardens, constructed wetlands, planted green roofs and the reintroduction of meanders, among many others[1].

charlesriverAcross the U.S. and internationally, natural infrastructure is being increasingly used to address water management issues arising from a combination of development, continuing population pressures and climate change that results in more extreme precipitation events. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), important factors in building momentum for natural infrastructure solutions, not surprisingly, have been found to include the ability to capitalize on key windows of opportunity for natural infrastructure investments, presence of champions and effective advocates, public-private partnerships and partnership investments, and effective public outreach naturalinfrastructureand communication. Well-crafted assessments and sustainable funding mechanisms are critical factors of success during the design phase. Clear responsibilities among partners, adequate capacity to complete assigned tasks and sustainable financial mechanisms are all critical to implementation. Finally, monitoring and reporting on outcomes, the ability to leverage funding to expand investments to the landscape level, and the capacity to continue planning into the future are all found to be factors of success for natural infrastructure development during the maintenance stage.

It is exciting to see Boston and other cities embrace innovative solutions that marry water and land management, integrating gray-green infrastructure solutions and, as a result, creating new benefits socially, economically AND environmentally. Looking out across Boston’s CityScape, brendaandsonI was reminded how comprehensive approaches and partnerships can link together individual projects that promote natural infrastructure even in the face of extensive urbanization. Allowing the land to return to a more natural pattern of water flow and treatment can allow urban areas to manage many of their water challenges more effectively. It was quite a sight to take in from that 10th floor. Although my world has been focused on my son’s healing over the last couple weeks, the green view from our hospital room was memorable — and immensely promising.

[1] Designing for exceedance in urban drainage – good practice (C635)  Downloadable here.

Posted in wetlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

wppA Burning Problem For Mangroves

By Helen Scales Hakai Magazine October 11, 2016
Beyond Antananarivo—Madagascar’s capital city—signs of urbanization give way to sprawling farms and sweeping grasslands. At the coastal city of Toliara to the south, after a full day’s journey, the road turns into tire-sucking sandy track that mainly serves cattle-drawn wooden carts. For seven more hours, travelers cross a desert marked with spiny trees, where the sun bakes everything to a dusty crisp. Finally, the Bay of Assassins appears, an oasis thrumming with life, fringed with lush evergreen mangroves. For full article, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

bos2It’s RAINing Data in the Ohio River Basin

By Catherine Magliocchetti – Healthy Waters – October 13, 2016
Want to know about water quality in the Ohio River Basin?  The information is only a few clicks away. My colleagues and I recently traveled to Pittsburgh to learn more about the River Alert Information Network (RAIN) and its interactive website that tracks the condition of the basin’s six mighty rivers and displays that information in near real time. The website’s monitoring map has a wealth of river data available and accessible to the public. For full blog post, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Intern, ASWM

After writing my previous blog, Something’s Fishy, a few weeks ago about water pollution and wetlands’ ability to filter contaminants from water; I got to thinking more about the use of wetlands as a solution for filtering polluted water. So, I began to dig in and do some research to learn more about this.

As I noted in my last blog and will expand on here, natural wetlands filter runoff through a slow, natural process that allows sediment to sink down to the floor of the wetland. Excess nutrients are absorbed by the wetland’s organic matter and are then used in the regrowth of vegetation. Furthermore, the soil captures the other chemicals and heavy metals where they are either held or get broken down by microorganisms. If wetlands have the ability to do this with everyday urban runoff, would they have the ability to filter toxic contaminants from water that has been highly polluted by, say, heavy metals, acid mine drainage or other chemical leaks?

In fact, history proves that they can! Dr. André Sobolewski discusses some great examples on his website of wetlands doing just that. For example, one instance in 1898 was discovered accidentally when a farmer attempted to put sediment on his cucumber patch after a forest fire had caused destruction to the vegetation to his land. His land consisted of 2.5 acres of cupriferous bog. The sediment was applied because the vegetation was not growing back but once he did this, it formed a “black muck” that was found to be “lethal” due to high contents of copper. When revisited in 1950 it was found to contain an estimated 300 tons of copper. Sobolewski’s report states:

“Copper enters the wetland through the bottom, emerging as distinct seeps containing 0.005 to 1.0 mg/L. Its source appears to be copper mineralization associated with the Boss Point Formation (Boyle, 1977). The copper is retained in wetland sediments soon after the seepage emerges. Fraser (1961b) demonstrated that it is attenuated predominantly through association with organic matter, which in the wetland sediments reaches 10-20% (Boyle, 1977).

Fraser determined that accumulating 300 tons of copper in the wetland would require approximately 4,000 years. He notes that the wetland can’t be older than that, because sea water retreated from the area 4,000 years ago. Therefore, he concludes that this wetland has been removing copper from solution since the time it was formed.”

This is just one of many examples I found while researching this topic. Not only do wetlands retain copper contaminants but, according to Sobolewski’s report, they also trap contaminants that are released through acid mine drainage such as Uranium, Zinc, Iron, Manganese, Arsenic, Copper, Aluminum, Lead, Nickel, Cyanide, Radium, Cobalt, Thallium, and Cadmium.

132While research has shown that natural wetlands can definitely hold their own when it comes to filtering highly polluted waters, we must keep in mind that too much pollution can cause irreversible harm to a natural wetland. Excessive amounts of toxins can actually kill plants and animals that live in wetland habitats as well as important microorganisms that help with the natural filtering process. Because of this, governments and organizations have begun to create structures that mimic natural wetland systems to treat polluted water found in acid mine drainage, sewage treatment systems, urban storm runoff, and livestock wastewaters —to name a few.  These constructed systems are developed using soils, microorganisms and vegetation found in wetlands to filter water like a natural wetland.

Constructed wetlands are becoming more popular, One reason is because they take some of the burden off of natural wetlands so that they can continue to offer a dwelling for fish and wildlife, provide flood attenuation, slow shoreline erosion, and offer commercial and economic benefits. They also look better than conventional water treatment plants. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for using constructed wetlands to treat polluted water, is that constructed wetlands can be more cost-efficient for a community because they are much less costly to build than expensive water treatment infrastructure for secondary and/or tertiary treatment. Studies of natural wetlands have demonstrated how effective wetlands are. A report produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  in a “1990 study showed that, the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina, removes a quantity of pollutants that would be equivalent to that removed annually by a $5 million waste water treatment plant. Another study at a 2,500 acre wetland in Georgia, indicated that it saves $1 million in water pollution abatement costs annually.”

NYC GuideAs of 2004, Europe had constructed up to 5,000 wetlands and the US had built up to 1,000 and these numbers have surely grown. Numerous handbooks have been made and are offered online, such as EPA’s “A handbook of constructed wetlands,” to guide communities in fashioning a constructed wetland. Major cities across the US, such as New York City  and San Francisco offer brochures about their constructed wetland programs and future masterplans.  It seems to me like this is a win-win water filtration strategy for everyone! And this information points to the extraordinary ability that constructed wetlands have in solving some of our most worrisome environmental issues. Stay tuned for some more blogs from Counting Cattails so that you may follow me in my journey here at ASWM.

Posted in acid mine drainage, Association of State Wetland Managers, ASWM, constructed wetlands, heavy metals, natural water filtration, pollution, Uncategorized, water contamination, wetland, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

bos2California Law Recognizes Meadows and Forests as Water Infrastructure

By Luke Hunt, Ph.D. – American Rivers – October 4, 2016
California’s vast water infrastructure is likely the most extensive in the world. It includes the tallest dam in the nation and enormous state and federal water projects that tap rivers flowing from as far away as Wyoming. On September 27th, Governor Brown signed legislation that recognizes the state’s watersheds as part of it’s infrastructure. Just as the state’s canals and levees need maintenance and repair, so do our rivers and watersheds. This bill opens the door to using modern infrastructure financing approaches to protect and repair rivers and watersheds. Infrastructure bonds can now be used for restoration and protection. For full story, click here.

Posted in Infrastructure | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

wppThe greatest river in North America begins in Minnesota. But our pristine
stretch of the Mississippi faces mounting environmental threats.

By Josephine Marcotty – Star Tribune – October 2, 2016 – Video
The mating dance of the hex mayflies drew John Sorenson to the Straight River at sunset. As the bugs floated like snowflakes in the fading summer light, he pulled on his waders and waited patiently for the distinct sound of trout breaking the dark water to feed. “It’s a treasure,” he said, stepping to the edge of the grassy bank and casting his line, as he has for years. But the Straight River is becoming warmer and more polluted as farm irrigation rigs multiply along its banks. Now Sorenson fears that the fish huddling in the cooler deep spots are a stark sign that northern Minnesota’s only naturally producing trout stream is in trouble. For full story and to view video,
click here.


Posted in pollution | Tagged , | Leave a comment

bos2Partnering with States to Cut Nutrient Pollution

By Joel Beauvais – EPA Connect – September 22, 2016
Nutrient pollution remains one of America’s most widespread and costly environmental and public health challenges, threatening the prosperity and quality of life of communities across the nation. Over the last 50 years, the amount of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways has steadily increased, impacting water quality, feeding harmful algal blooms, and affecting drinking water sources. From the Lake Erie algae blooms to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, nutrient pollution is impacting every corner of our country and economy. For full blog post, click here.

Posted in nutrient pollution, water, water quality | Tagged | Leave a comment

wppThe Secret World of Bog

By Shanna Baker – Hakai Magazine – September 19, 2016
British Columbia’s wild west coast is generally represented as a place of luxurious forests starring gargantuan Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar looming over dense, leafy green understory. Yet there is another, drastically different, side to the coastal temperate rainforest that few people know—a landscape where the trees are gnarled and stunted like bonsai, the ground is carpeted in hillocks of multicolored mosses, the stagnant pools are as red as bourbon, and plants slurp bugs for breakfast. This is the secret world of The Bog. For full article, click here.

Posted in bog | Leave a comment

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

In April of this year, Dr. Jon Kusler, Esq. (founder and former Executive Director of the Association of State Wetland Managers) – published a report titled “Government Liability and Climate Change: Selected Issues for Wetland and Floodplain Managers.”  As a local elected official, I was eager to read his report and provide a review via my blog, For Peat’s Sake.

There is broad scientific consensus (97%) that climate change is real and poses a significant risk to human, ecosystem and economic health (see “Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming” by John Cook et al). Federal, state, tribal and local agencies are actively working on decreasing the risk of climate change impacts, i.e., hurricanes, flooding, drought, water pollution, disease, etc. for communities nationwide. Most of these efforts, however, are novel and/or cmglobalexperimental and there is still a lot we don’t know about future climate change impacts. Innumerable different systems and players are affected in any climate change scenario which makes modeling and forecasting future scenarios extremely challenging. And as George E. P. Box once said, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.” So how do we decide how to invest our limited government financial resources – how do we weigh the risks?

This inability to deliver forecasts with 100% certainty has resulted in inaction by some communities who view the costs associated with risk reduction to be an unnecessary expense in an uncertain future – or for what they believe to be normal climate variations. But what many folks are not considering is the risks and associated costs of inaction. Nationwide, the cost of inaction has been immense. Billions of dollars have been spent on disaster recovery from climate induced natural hazards. In fact, the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is currently $23 billion in debt and according to an article in e360 digest, “More than 2,100 properties across the U.S. enrolled in the NFIP have flooded and been rebuilt more than 10 times since 1978.” It goes on to say that “Those homes, known as “severe repetitive loss properties,” make up just 0.6 percent of federal flood insurance policies. But they account for 10.6 percent of the program’s claims — disasterfema093016totaling $5.5 billion in payments.” It is important to point out that this cost of inaction is funded by hard earned taxpayer money. Beyond the financial risks involved, there are legal implications that the majority of folks I have discussed climate change risk with have not even considered. That is why Dr. Kusler’s report is so timely and so critical.

As Kusler points out in his summary, “Looking to the future, climate-related and natural hazards will be increasingly quantified, foreseeable and predictable with improved computer models and global and regional monitoring. “ If it’s one thing humans are good at, it’s developing new and improved technology, so Dr. Kusler’s point is important. Governments who do not heed risk information and adequately prepare their communities may be sued for negligence. On the other hand, governments who do take actions to make their communities more resilient through activities such as tightening regulations on private property without payment of just compensation (i.e., a “takings” claim) may be equally subject to lawsuits.

Dr. Kusler’s report is a very digestible primer on legal theory and provides multiple case studies to illustrate each potential legal pitfall. To date, no government has been successfully sued for failing to consider climate change in its policies or regulations, but the possibility of a successful lawsuit in the next 10-20 years is entirely possible. Here are some of the reasons that Kusler provides in his report:

  1. houstonflood093016Flood, landslide, avalanche and other natural hazards including but not limited to those caused or contributed to by climate change are becoming increasingly “foreseeable” and “predictable.”
  2. Flood-related suits which are now quite common claiming that governments have increased flood, erosion, and related hazards on private lands in traditional, non-climate change contexts may be expanded to include climate change-related flooding and erosion as well.
  3. Advances are being made in the techniques available for reducing hazard losses including those from climate change-related flooding.
  4. Advances are being made in natural hazard modeling techniques available to establish causation, the reasonableness of conduct, and damages.
  5. Courts are making it increasingly difficult to establish the defenses of “act of God”, “contributory negligence” and “assumption of risk”.

The good news is that there are actions that can be taken immediately to not only provide better risk reduction for our communities, but that also reduce governmental liability. I don’t want to spoil the report before folks get a chance to read it for themselves, so I won’t outline them here, but Dr. Kusler provides several implementable recommendations that anyone involved in government policy and regulation should consider using. So For Peat’s Sake, I highly recommend reading Jon’s most recent report and taking the necessary steps to reduce your community’s risk and governmental liability.

Posted in climate change, climate change adaptation, environmental law, flooding, global warming, government, hurricanes, Land use planning, law, natural hazards, resiliency, sea level rise, wetlands legal | Leave a comment

wppOutdated FEMA Flood Maps Don’t Account For Climate Change

By Christopher Joyce – npr – September 15, 2016
The floods that hit Louisiana last month were caused by rainfall that was unlike anything seen there in centuries. Most of the southern part of the state was drenched with up to 2 or 3 inches in an hour. A total of 31 inches fell just northeast of Baton Rouge in about three days; 20 parishes were declared federal disaster areas. Climate scientists and flood managers suspect there could more like that to come — in Louisiana and in other parts of the country. For full story, click here.

Posted in climate change, floods | Leave a comment
Web Analytics