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

wppBe Thankful for Floodplains

By Roy Schiff and Jessica Louisos – The Northfield News – August 18, 2016
We all should be more thankful for floodplains – the flat areas next to rivers where water spills onto during a flood. We live, eat, shop, and play in our floodplains. They store flood waters to keep us safer. They capture sediment and take up nutrients to protect the water quality of our favorite rivers and lakes. They provide habitat for some of the most unique plants and animals we know of. They grow our food. With all of the “ecosystem services” that we know floodplains provide, we still abuse them. For full story, click here.

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

Ecological restoration is certainly a hot topic these days. The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) has been working on finding solutions for wetland restoration challenges through two different U.S. EPA Wetland Program Development Grants for the last three and a half years and our work has generated a significant amount of interest all across the county and into Canada. Among many of our findings, one of the biggest hurdles we have identified is that, as the world becomes more and more complex, so too does the practice of ecological restoration. urban090116For example, rapid climate change creates a whole new layer of complexity as it requires practitioners to consider potential future climate scenarios that may or may not support the current or historical ecosystem type, and therefore habitat, for a particular site or region. Invasive species are spreading rapidly and radically reducing biodiversity, while in some areas they are providing important ecosystem functions. With increasing development and population growth, practitioners and managers have to consider trade-offs for the environment, society and the economy in every decision they make.

The topic of “novel ecosystems” among restoration practitioners and academics has generated substantial debate about what ecological restoration is and what the goals for restoration should be. Perring, et al (2014) view novel ecosystems as “offering opportunities for conservation and restoration in the coming years and a pragmatic recognition that it may not always be possible, or desirable, to overcome adverse consequences of environmental degradation to reinstate historical systems.”[1] This concept, however, should not preclude efforts to restore certain ecosystems to a previously existing undisturbed state – there are certainly some areas – generally more rural – where this is still a possibility. And some would argue that by setting the bar higher, even if the historical pre-disturbance condition is never attained, the performance outcomes will at least reach the best attainable condition. However, in urban landscapes, the possibility of attaining any sort of natural historical state (i.e., pre-colonialization) is essentially nil. But does this mean that we should not even try?

streams090116Many would argue that the practice of urban stream restoration is not possible, too risky or too expensive. In contrast, Dr. Ann Riley’s newest book, Restoring Neighborhood Streams: Planning, Design, and Construction” (2016) provides an honest, proficient and hopeful evaluation of the practice of urban stream restoration. Ecological restoration in urban environments, whether of a wetland or a neighborhood stream, presents a unique set of challenges for those willing to take on such a project. As such, the objectives, design, implementation and assessment methods are by necessity different from ecological restoration projects sited in more rural environments.  Dr. Riley, Executive Director of the Waterways Restoration Institute, doesn’t shy away from reporting project failures – as a professional in the field of riparian restoration for more than thirty years, she has seen her fair share of mistakes and misguided assumptions. However, she highlights these past mistakes in order to share the critical lessons learned over many decades of experimentation so that the reader can benefit from the knowledge and experience that she and her colleagues have gained.

Due to the conflicting opinions of what restoration is or what it should be, Dr. Riley spends an entire chapter on clarifying the different perspectives on restoration. She concludes that the various disciplines and perspectives of ecological restoration can complement rather than conflict with each other. She emphasizes, however, that ecological restoration should not be confused with beautification efforts (i.e., projects that prioritize aesthetics over condition or function, and that do not contribute to dynamic natural processes) or it is simply an exercise in “decorating a corpse.” Yet she does recognize that restoration means different things to different professionals based on their field of work and varying project goals. Figure 1 illustrates Riley’s perspective on restoration definitions as rungs on a ladder representing different levels of restoration: historical restoration, ecological restoration, functional restoration, and enhancement of controlled channels. The highest rung on the ladder, historical restoration, represents the highest level of ecological recovery attainable – although in many places due to alternations of streams and watersheds it is not attainable. The lowest rung on the ladder, enhancement of controlled channels, represents highly engineered projects that primarily provide aesthetic improvements.

restorationlevels090116

In her book, Dr. Riley offers several urban stream and river case studies that are organized around the following questions:

  • Did the project result in a geomorphically and biologically functioning stream?
  • Could the project substitute for an engineered channel to provide a solution to flooding and excessive erosion?
  • Were the identified benefits of the project achieved at a reasonable cost?
  • How were the land uses in conflict with achieving a functioning ecosystem system resolved?

She gauges a restoration project’s “success” according to seven criteria:

  1. Creates an Ecologically Dynamic Environment
  2. Improves Ecological Conditions
  3. Increases Resiliency
  4. Does No Harm
  5. Pre and Post Ecological Assessments are Conducted
  6. Creates Learning about Restoration Planning, Design, and Construction for the Future
  7. Creates Community Benefits

Riley’s book is as much of a history lesson as it is a practical guide for best practices in the field of urban stream restoration. The many case studies described in the book provide the reader not only with theory but with real world examples of what has worked well and what has not – and more importantly why. She provides a strong argument that urban stream restoration is not only possible, but that it provides multiple important ecological, social and economic benefits to communities, particularly those that have been historically underserved.  Her findings mirror those that we heard during a webinar hosted by ASWM for its Improving Wetland Restoration Success webinar series on Wetland Restoration in Urban and Highly Disturbed Landscapes. The recording of the webinar is available on ASWM’s website for free by clicking here. But For Peat’s Sake, I think anyone with an interest in the field of ecological restoration, whether an academic, biologist, ecologist, hydrologist, engineer, landscape architect, regulator, policy maker, community activist or otherwise will benefit from reading Dr. Riley’s book and embracing her wisdom.


[1] Perring et al. Ecological Processes 2014, 3:8

http://www.ecologicalprocesses.com/content/3/1/8

Posted in adaptation, biodiversity, climate change, Ecological Restoration, ecosystem services, restoration, riparian areas, streams, urban wetlands | Tagged | Leave a comment

wppBuilding equity, inclusiveness for low-income communities is key in climate resilience planning

By Shamar Bibbinss – Environmental Justice in Action – EPA Blog – August 16, 2016
As a student organizer, I saw firsthand the lack of engagement with communities of color around key environmental issues. When I began working on climate change years later, I remained guided by a deep passion to ensure that people from historically underrepresented groups were included in efforts to advance climate solutions. Low-income communities have, historically, been largely excluded from the benefits of robust investments in clean energy, green infrastructure, high-quality transit, and other climate-beneficial interventions. Climate policies have failed to address the magnitude of environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities these communities face. For full blog post, click here.

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bos2From Grasslands to Forests, Nitrogen Impacts all Ecosystems

By Ashley Mayrianne Jones – It All Starts with Science – EPA Blog – August 22, 2016
Can there be too much of a good thing? That’s the case with nitrogen, an essential element for plant growth that, in overabundance, can also be potentially damaging. Nitrogen moves from the air to the land, soil, and water via a process called nitrogen deposition. Atmospheric nitrogen deposition has increased ten-fold or more since pre-industrial levels due to increased emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, fertilizer use, and other human activities. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

The last weeks have been great fun in our household.  Watching the 2016 Summer Olympics with my nine- and five-year-old children has been inspiring and the cheering and antics have been very amusing.  The Olympics have been a coveted event in our family since my childhood, when my father (who comes from Germany) would sit and watch the Olympic gymnastics events with us.  As a youth, he was on Germany’s Junior National Gymnastics Team.  A torn Achilles tendon eventually forced him to turn away from the sport and pursue a career in academia, but he still races canoes and outriggers and is an avid sailor.  My brother, who grew up with this same love of the Olympics became a nationally-ranked kayaker and earned a spot as alternate for the U.S. Olympic Team.  Needless to say, we have all been very proud.

snorkeling2

When it comes to me, however, it is not quite the same story.  I have had my heyday bike racing, scuba diving and being a whitewater rafting guide (having mucked and swam through the best and the worst of Maine’s waters), but the likelihood of ever attaining a seat on the world athletic stage has been a pipedream…that is, until now.  Little did I know that the combination of my wetland, rafting and diving skills might actually all be preparing me for greatness.  Add to that my love of mud and amphibians and well it turns out I might just have been born to compete on the world stage after all.  Move over Michael Phelps, Katy Ledecky and Simone Biles — I might just want to throw my hat (or rather snorkel) in the ring to compete in the World Alternative Games in the World Bog Snorkelling Competition!

World Bog Snorkelling Competition?  That isn’t a real thing, is it?  Why yes.  Yes it really is.

According to that most trusted of information sources, Wikipedia, “bog snorkelling is a sporting event that consists of competitors completing two consecutive lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat bog in the shortest time possible.”  Every summer, bog snorkeling is part of the “World Alternative Games,” which is held annually in Britain’s smallest town, Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales. In recent years, the competition has enticed more than a hundred competitors to join the mucky fun. In 2015 the bog snorkellers included participants from France, Holland, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Australia, Japan, Canada, the USA and other countries.  The current world record was set in 2015 by Haydn Pitchforth with a time of 1 min 26.00 secs.  These World Alternative Games include not only bog snorkeling, but other enticing competitions such as underwater hockey, world bathtub championships, stone skimming and the ever controversial but wildly popular “wife carrying.”  We know all about the last one here in Maine, as it is a staple of local competitions in the state.

bogsnorkeling1082616While the basic event still runs, organizers have upped the ante’ in recent years.  Bog snorkeling has become part of a larger event, called the World Bog Snorkelling Triathlon.  The triathlon has official rules and regulations.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records (of course they would be involved), to cross the finish line, “competitors have to run seven-and-a-half miles, complete two lengths of the town’s infamous 135-foot long, six-foot deep bog and cycle 19 miles across the most demanding of mountain terrain.”

Competitors in the bog snorkelling section of the triathlon must wear a snorkel and flippers and complete the course using flipper power alone. Wet suits are not compulsory, but are usually worn.  But of course that is not all.  This muddy extravaganza would surely be incomplete without an array of hand-crafted costumes (alternative uniforms, if you will).  Take out your binoculars on competition day and you are likely to see human frogs, shark fins, superheroes and much more. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I will do you one better.  I invite you to enjoy the following short video clip, sharing the excitement and wonder of the bog snorkeling event:

In this week’s world that is shaken by earthquakes, deluged by devastating floods, recovering from tornadoes and dealing with political turmoil, taking a mental flight of fancy to imagine ASWM’s team entries into the World Bog Snorkelling Triathlon is very good medicine indeed.  While this blog usually introduces thought-provoking ideas and developments relevant to the wetland world, it is nice for a moment instead to don my literary flippers and share with you instead this wetland amusement in all its glory.  At 6’1” I can become The Hen Harrier of the bog, the lesser known cousin of The Albatross of former Olympic fame.  And if I can’t make it to Wales, there are other bog snorkeling events in Australia, Ireland and Sweden.

This year’s event takes place this weekend, but there is always next year.  Bog snorkeling.  I.  Was.  Born.  For.  This.

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bos2Taking a Buyout from the Beach

By Jackie Snow – Hakai Magazine – August 18, 2016
Coastal communities are under threat—from erosion, sea level rise, and, in some cases, increasingly powerful storms and floods. People who live on degrading coastal land face a difficult choice: they can stay and risk increasingly hazardous conditions, or leave and suffer potentially heavy financial losses. In a new paper, lawyer Emily Nellermoe argues that a market-based solution known as transferable development rights, or TDR, could be used to help homeowners vacate coastal properties without overextending government budgets. For full article, click here.

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wppA Rural Alaskan Native Village’s Journey for Safe Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais – EPA Connect – August 11, 2016
I recently returned from a work trip to Alaska, where I met with colleagues from EPA’s Alaska Operations Office and Alaska’s Department of Conservation to discuss a variety of water-related  issues and tour a few facilities, communities, and projects. I expected to be to be wowed by the good work Alaskans are doing to protect their waters while strengthening their communities, but what I didn’t expect was to be so moved by one native village’s journey to provide their families with in-home piped water and sewer lines for the first time. For full blog post, click here.

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final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Summer Intern, ASWM

As many of you may know, Louisiana is currently in a state of emergency according to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, due to recent torrential rainfall and flash flooding in the Baton Rouge area. The federal government is declaring it a major disaster and, at the time I am writing this, 40,000 businesses and homes have been flooded, at least eleven people have lost their lives, 30,000 people have been rescued, and 40,000 have registered with FEMA for disaster assistance.

These floods have been deemed record breaking as, according to Climate Nexus, during this storm nine river gauges read record high levels. In fact, rivers in Baton Rouge remain above flood stage levels and Gov. Edwards is declaring it a “truly historic event.” That is because Baton Rouge saw double the amount of rainfall in a 24-hour span of time than it would see, generally, the entire month of August. For example, CNN reports that “one river, the Tickfaw, rose 20 feet in 14 hours, breaking a previous crest record by more than three feet.” Wow! This flood is unprecedented! I can’t help but keep wondering, though, if this disaster has been exacerbated by wetland loss.

flood2In my last blog post, Where Have all the Wetlands Gone?, I talked about wetland loss throughout the years in the United States. And, in the spirit of keeping the pattern going, it only seems fitting for my second blog to talk about this tremendous flood in Baton Rouge in relation to wetland loss in Louisiana.

So, what does wetland loss have to do with it, anyway? A wetland, as you probably know, is like a giant natural sponge that soaks up excess flood water through its abundance of live plants, roots and vegetation and also through its decaying plant matter. This process also slows down the flow of flood water and helps distribute it back into the floodplain more gradually. The combination of storing excess water and releasing it more gradually work together in not only lowering flood heights but reducing damaging erosion. In turn, this helps keep homes and businesses safe from floods!

wetland081816As I mentioned in my last blog, over 50% of our nation’s wetlands have been destroyed by being filled, dredged or drained to use for some other purpose. That means that many of them are no longer there to assist with keeping businesses and homes safe from flooding. That seems very scary to me.

I recently read a surprising statistic on EPA’s website that says “the bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.” If all of Louisiana’s wetlands were still intact would this rainstorm have been as damaging as it was to the affected communities? Eric Holthaus (2016) states that this storm is considered a “500-year rainstorm,” meaning “a downpour with an estimated likelihood of just once every 500 years, and roughly three months’ worth of rainfall during a typical hurricane season.” At least the wetlands, if they were still around, might have held a portion of the water and might have lessened some of the damage. However, even a sponge can get so filled with water, it can’t absorb any more. Also the size and location of the sponge (i.e. wetland) determines whether it will absorb floodwater that would otherwise reach a community. At best the presence of wetlands can only be part of a solution to avoiding flood losses.  But they can be an important part and have the potential of become more important in the future.

While researching this terrible disaster, I have been coming up upon articles that are making connections between the record breaking rainfall and climate change. This is interesting to me because some climate observers are calling this “500-year rainstorm” a “classic signal of climate change.” Their reasoning behind this statement is based on research that states that warmer climate temperatures enable the atmosphere to hold more water vapor (“about 7% [more] per 1°C warming”) and global warming is producing warmer temperatures. Furthermore, Trenberth (2005) makes the argument that “storms, whether individual thunderstorms, extratropical rain or snow storms, or tropical cyclones and hurricanes, supplied by increased moisture, produce more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring, even in places where total precipitation is decreasing. In turn, this increases the risk of flooding.” This information is something for communities to think about, as storms increase and weather becomes more extreme, a trend we are seeing more of these days. Finding ways to absorb floodwaters through wetlands and other nature-based methods can be one of many cost effective approaches to reducing flood risk.

As for the folks in Louisiana and other states where this flood has caused havoc, my thoughts are with them. I know many are displaced from their homes and are suffering grief and loss. Healing and rebuilding will follow, but these things take time. I know I have learned some valuable lessons about the importance of wetlands and our natural environment through this process and stay tuned for some more blogs from Counting Cattails so that you may follow me in my journey as an intern here at ASWM.

Here is a link to a YouTube video that shows aerial drone footage of the Louisiana flood of 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbIek5O02cg

Posted in climate change, flooding, global warming, wetland loss, wetlands | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

wppBoosting Mill Towns by Busting Dams

By Tim Purinton – Ebb & Flow – July 2016
The term “dam removal” brings to mind the decommissioning of large hydropower facilities in the west and the waging of contentious legal battles to improve wild salmon passage on big, iconic rivers, images of roiling white water, dynamite charges and environmental luminaries like Edward Abbey and Yvon Chouinard come to mind. While these river restoration projects capture the national headlines, in the Northeast, where a myriad of dams dot the landscape like white church spires, dams are being removed for more subtle environmental and social reasons, one of which is the economic revitalization of depressed mill towns. For full story, click here.

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bos2A Reflection on the Gold King Mine Incident

By Mathy Stanislaus – EPA Connect Blog – August 1, 2016
Today, we are releasing a new publication, One Year After the Gold King Mine Incident: A Retrospective of EPA’s Efforts to Restore and Protect Communities. The report details our efforts — including the projects and groups we have funded — to protect the areas around the Gold King Mine (GKM) and prevent another spill like this from happening at other EPA work sites at mines across the country. For full blog post, click here.

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