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

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Water quality is important as quantity

By Larry Dreiling – High Plains Journal – June 1, 2015
Water affects every facet of our lives, from drinking supplies to agricultural production to recreation. While debates ensue about water quantity as a drought across the High Plains eases somewhat, quality determines how and if it can be used. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereBLOG: “We want good evacuation measures, no large seawalls!”

By Marie-Jose Vervest– Wetlands International – March 26, 2015
What is the best approach to restore and protect a coastline that was hit by a Tsunami? Driven by my own involvement in mangrove restoration after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and ‘Building with Nature’ approaches with Wetlands International, I attended the event ‘Global approaches to coastal resilience’ organized by READY Asia-Pacific  at the WCDRR in Sendai. In this session coastal protection measures after the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan were discussed. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

News over the last couple of weeks has contained many stories from Texas, Oklahoma and other parts of the country where extreme precipitation events have led to flooding, in some cases at levels even older generations have not seen.  My brother lives just outside Austin, Texas and had his house flood unexpectedly with rainfall that his neighbors had not seen in more than 25 years.

water163152Experts bear out that these events and their frequency are changing, although flooding has always occurred at intervals over time.  Data indicate that some of these current major storm events remain within the normal variability of natural events, but the overall trend is towards a greater number of more intense storms and with greater impacts.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “the prevalence of extreme single-day precipitation events remained fairly steady between 1910 and the 1980s, but has risen substantially since then. Over the entire period from 1910 to 2013, the portion of the country experiencing extreme single-day precipitation events increased at a rate of about half a percentage point per decade.”

fig1water63152Figure 1 shows percent increases in the amount of precipitation falling in very heavy events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all daily events from 1958 to 2012 for each region of the continental United States.  The data shows trends larger than natural variations for the Northeast, Midwest, Puerto Rico, Southeast, Great Plains and Alaska with the largest percent increase in the Northeast. (National Climate Change Assessment, EPA, 2014)

Although we cannot control the amount of rain that falls, there are other actions that are within our control that affect where water goes, the speed with which it runs off and the infrastructure designed to manage it. First, the change in impervious cover, particularly in urban and urbanizing areas, in the last 50 years is substantial.  Lands that at one time had the ability to absorb water have been transformed into asphalt, cement and rooftops.  Next, wetlands that could capture, slow and filter waters have been lost. Wetlands serve as nature’s sponges, allowing precipitation to gather in wetlands and sink into the land and/or run off slowly.  Third, infrastructure that manages stormwater runoff was, in most places across the U.S., designed for smaller storm events than the larger events – generally 15-20 year storm events. We are seeing larger storms with increasing frequency.  Without the ability to absorb, store or channel stormwater effectively during major events, culverts blow out, pipes rupture, and combined sewer overflows channel sewage to our waterbodies.

It’s time that we looked towards alternative solutions.  One needs only look at the flooding in Vermont that resulted from Hurricane Irene to understand that we need to start thinking differently about how water is managed before, during and after major precipitation events.  At the same time, we need to think about the fact that California is in a severe drought and desperately needs to find ways to store water for public, private and ecosystem health.

water353152Wetlands need to be more commonly and broadly considered as part of adapting to extreme precipitation events.  The preservation and restoration of natural wetlands can lead to significant reductions in runoff quantities and velocity.  The creation of new wetlands or constructed wetlands (which are designed for the purpose of managing stormwater) are also part of the menu of wetland-related options for managing precipitation.

The concept that wetlands can mitigate storm events is not new conceptually.  ASWM’s own Jon Kusler developed and shared the graphic in Figure 2 that shows the positive impact of wetlands on peak stormwater flows.  According to Maine DEP, “along rivers, wetlands usually form natural pathways for flood waters from upstream to downstream points. If those pathways are altered or removed, flood waters can go elsewhere, potentially damaging property and threatening public safety. Without wetlands as a natural flood control mechanism, flooding can become more severe.”

Combining gray and green infrastructure can produce multiple benefits. It can reduce stormflows, treat stormwater runoff, and provide natural beauty and recreation opportunities, and even public spaces for things like art and music.  We also can no longer rely solely on weather data from the past to predict the future.  Future planning should consider the changes in weather patterns, extreme event frequency and the increases in impervious surface.

In May, 35 trillion gallons of water fell on the state of Texas in the form of precipitation (National Weather Service, 2015).  The National Weather Service warns that the saturated land, even as surface waters recede, provide dangerous conditions for the southern states, as they come into the hurricane season.  For those parts of the country where there is truly “nary a drop to drink” such as California, which is experiencing a drought not seen in more than a generation, wetlands once again have a role to play – with the ability to store water for slow release and provide essential resources to ecosystems and those who rely on them for their livelihoods.

As we watch yet another national tragedy unfold, we need to be thinking about both large-scale mindset changes and also small-scale incorporation of local actions that reduce runoff, slow flow and accommodate major rain events in ways that do not threaten public safety.  Instead, as part of the solution, we should consider leveraging the services that wetlands provide.

Posted in constructed wetlands, flooding, green infrastructure, infiltration, stormwater pollution, stormwater runoff, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Ten Tips to Give Frogs a Landing Pad

By Anne Bolen – National Wildlife Federation – March 12, 2015
Frogs are vital to the food web, serving as natural bug zappers and as food for many predators, from raptors to raccoons. They are also important bioindicators that help us determine the health of our environment,” says Kerry Kriger, founder of Save The Frogs, an NWF partner. “We have a lot to learn from them.” Indeed, about a third of the world’s some 7,000 amphibian species are at risk of extinction, struggling to combat pesticides, pollution, diseases such as deadly chytrid funguses, competition with introduced species and, in particular, habitat decline. One 2014 paper by the Institute for Land, Water and Society published in Marine and Freshwater Research estimates that at least 64 percent of the world’s wetlands—vital for amphibian breeding and feeding—have disappeared since 1900, overtaken by agriculture and development. For full article, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphere Ancient Traditions Revitalize Sierra Watersheds; Increase Water

By Patricia McBroom – The California Spigot – May 4, 2015
In the mountains above Fresno, a slim, beautiful wild plum has taken root in a newly cleared meadow. No one planted the tree. It simply sprouted on its own, once the overgrowth was pushed out by Native Americans working to revitalize the forest.  The blooming presence of this sapling stands as testimony to what can be done to not only restore a meadow but to thin the forest and thereby bring more water down from the Sierra Nevada mountain range. For full blog post, click here.

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

We live in a very interesting time. On one hand, we are experiencing extreme precipitation events that are producing massive amounts of water and thereby causing devastating floods in the country’s interior. Sea levels are rising and hurricanes are increasing in intensity, causing damaging floods along our coasts. water52814-1And yet, at the same time, the western states are facing an increasing severity of droughts and wildfires and our inland water bodies are dying a slow death from algal blooms. So some states have no water, and in the states where we have an abundance of water, much of it is unpotable.

Duke Energy in North Carolina, the country’s largest electricity company, pled guilty to violating the Clean Water Act this month and contaminating clean drinking water wells with toxic heavy metals from coal ash.  They are supplying residents with bottled water until it gets cleaned up – and it is not their first incident. Just last year they spilled 82,000 gallons of ash into the Dan River. In West Virginia last year, Freedom Industries had a disastrous chemical spill in Elk River just upstream from a drinking water intake that serves 300,000 people. And in Toledo, Ohio last year there were drinking water bans due to toxic levels of microcystin produced by algal blooms around Western Lake Erie due primarily to agricultural practices. Even water that goes through water treatment plants has been found to be laden with pharmaceuticals. And these are just the clean water crises that made the biggest headlines.

water2052815According to the Groundwater Foundation, more than 50% of the people in the U.S. rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply.  American Rivers reports that 65% of people in the U.S. get their drinking water from rivers and streams. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the 357,404 total miles of streams in the continental U.S. that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans, 58% of them are intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams – in other words streams that do not flow year round.

Wetlands are most often found at the interface of where water bodies, such as rivers and streams, connect to the land and their unique position on the landscape positions them strategically to filter out contaminants that often flow into our drinking water sources.  Many of these wetlands and streams have not been protected since the scope of the Clean Water Act was narrowed more than a decade ago by two U.S. Supreme Court cases, SWANCC in 2001 and Rapanos in 2006. These two cases also created a lot of confusion regarding how to determine Federal jurisdiction over our nation’s waters.  Interestingly, after achieving “no net loss” and even a modest net gain in wetland acres nationally from 1998-2004, annual wetland losses increased between 2004-2009.

To provide better clarity regarding Federal jurisdiction, what is included in the definition of “waters of the U.S.” and to better protect our nation’s water resources, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) developed the proposed Clean Water Rule. While the final rule provides greater clarity, it also formally recognizes that millions of acres of wetlands are no longer protected under the Clean Water Act unless a case by case significant nexus to traditionally navigable waters can be established.  This is a consequence of the SWANCC and Carabell/Rapanos Supreme Court decisions that is only now being incorporated into the regulatory definition of waters of the U.S.  The existing definition has been incorrect for over a decade.   In reaction to the proposed Clean Water Rule (which was just released as the final Clean Water Rule this week), the U. S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have proposed legislation to require EPA and the Corps to abandon the new rule and start over.  In addition, the bill in the Senate (S.1140) would significantly reduce the waters currently and historically protected under the Clean Water Act.  The Senate bill would remove  Clean Water Act  protections from virtually all wetlands as well as many rivers and streams which are critical for clean water provision, flood water absorption, and groundwater recharge among many other beneficial functions.

water852815For example, one of the provisions of the Senate bill (S.1140) would require the use of the National Hydrography Dataset Plus at the 1:100,000 scale from Reach Address Database Version 3.1 to determine whether or not a particular reach of a stream is protected under the   Clean Water Act. This is a coarse resolution dataset that generally only captures stream reaches that are longer than a mile.

To give you an idea of how the requirement to use this map would limit jurisdiction, take a look at the map to the right.  It is a map of perennial and intermittent streams.  The lines in white show perennial and intermittent streams that were mapped using NHD Plus. The lines in black are perennial and intermittent streams that were mapped using LiDAR (LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that generates “precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.” – NOAA).

You can see that many streams are not covered by the NHD 1:100,000 scale and therefore would not be protected by the Clean Water Act if S.1140 became law. The map above also illustrates the connectivity of intermittent and headwater streams to primary stream systems. Whatever happens upstream impacts the quality and quantity of waters downstream. Science clearly shows that these systems are all connected physically, biologically and chemically. The Clean Water Act was written to protect the physical, biological and chemical integrity of our nation’s waters.

States have the ability to develop more comprehensive protections for waters left out of Federal jurisdiction.  However, historically they have often been encouraged by members of the regulated public and their own state laws to implement their water programs consistent with Federal law.  The Environmental Law Institute published a 50 state summary in 2013 in which they found that 36 states “have laws that could restrict the authority of state agencies or localities to regulate waters left unprotected by the water5052815federal Clean Water Act.”  In some states this might merely mean that state environmental agencies are required to explain to their state legislature why they are protecting areas not protected under Federal law.  But in other states such as Idaho and South Dakota, the state is prohibited under state law from protecting waters in the state unless the Federal government does so as well.

Amid all of this activity, I can’t help but be reminded of the ancient mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem as he lamented, “water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.” So for Peats’ Sake, let’s let science inform policy, and let’s work together to protect our incredibly important water resources.

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View from the blog-o-sphere Why should every American care about the California drought?

By Sara Larsen – American Rivers – May 21, 2015
I was talking about this over FaceTime with my Mom in New Jersey. She mentioned that the drought “out there” seems bad. Yes, it is, I said. And then I had a thought: Why should Americans who don’t live in the West care? The fact is, California grows more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and almost two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. The drought’s bearing on agricultural production will most likely cause a nation-wide ripple effect on food prices, with Americans all over the country seeing their grocery store receipts inch up in cost. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Shot and gassed: Thousands of protected birds killed annually

By Rachael Bale and Tom Knudson – Reveal News – May 13, 2015
Every spring, bird-watchers from across America gather in Nebraska for one of the continent’s great avian spectacles – the mass migration of sandhill cranes through an hourglass-like passage along the Platte River. But some several hundred miles northeast in Wisconsin and Michigan, sandhill cranes are met with a different reception: They are shot dead by farmers or their hired guns under a little-known federal program that allows for the killing of birds protected by one of this nation’s bedrock conservation laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.For full story, click here.

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Guest Blog by William J. Mitsch Ph.D

In a report just issued for discussion at a global wetland meeting scheduled for early June in Uruguay, Gardner et al. (2015) gave an astonishing fact that global wetlands are estimated to have declined by 64 to 71 % in the 20th century alone and that this degradation rate continues.  As pointed out in our most recent edition of the book “Wetlands, 5th ed.” (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015):  “The rate at which wetlands are being lost on a global scale is only now becoming clear, in part with the use of new technologies associated with satellite imagery. But there are still many vast areas of wetlands where accurate records have not been kept, and many wetlands in the world were drained centuries ago…It is probably safe to assume that (1) we are still losing wetlands at a fairly rapid rate globally, particularly in developing countries; and (2) we have lost half or more of the world’s original wetlands.”

In a paper cited in the above report and book, Davidson (2014) determined that the world lost 53.5 percent of its wetlands “long-term” (i.e. multi-century) with higher loss rates in inland vs. coastal wetlands (60.8 vs. 46.4 percent respectively). He also found out that the wetland rate of loss in the 20th –early 21st centuries was 3.7 times faster than the long-term loss rate.

wetlandsmitschIn the USA, we have sound estimates that we lost about half of the wetlands in the lower 48 states equivalent from the 1780s to the 1980s.  That translated to an enormous loss rate of 236,000 hectares (580,000 acres) per year of wetlands for almost 2 centuries!  Even from the 1970s to the mid 1980s, we were losing over 100,000 hectares (260,000 acres) per year.  In stepped the Federal courts’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act to include wetlands as “waters of the United States” and the loss rate plummeted to about 5,600 hectares (14,000 acres) per year in the latest assessment issued a few years ago.  We have not yet achieved the national goal of “no net loss” that has been the formal policy of the USA for 30 years, but we are getting close and are much better off than most of the rest of the world in conserving the wetlands that are left.

But the legal means that we use in the USA to protect wetlands will not work in the rest of the world where land is needed for food production and living space for a growing world population. That makes slowing the global loss of wetlands that much more problematic. Rather we have to educate the world on the values of wetland ecosystems for the services that they provide for us including cleaning our water, supporting our biodiversity, mitigating our floods and coastal storms, and sequestering more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystems on the planet. In almost every comparison that has been done, the economic value of natural wetlands is at the top of the list.

I will be going to that meeting in Uruguay and will probe the validity of these world wetland trend estimates, but if the facts are even close to the ones I cite above, we need to sound an international alarm that “enough is enough.”  Please join me by forwarding this message around to any social or professional groups that you link with so that the alarm can be heard world-wide.


Davidson, N.C. 2014

Gardner, R.C. et al. 2015

Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015, Wetlands, 5th ed

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsMeaningful steps toward clean water take decades

By Tom Horton – My Eastern Shore MD – May 3, 2105
The Chesapeake Bay just got an important “win,” with Maryland’s agreement to end the spreading of poultry manure across sections of its Eastern Shore. Everyone should be happy about that. But no one should be satisfied. We could have had this win a decade ago. Understanding why we didn’t is important for ensuring the current agreement works. For full opinion, click here.

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