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Wetlands provide more than scenic views of nature

Published May 7, 2014

Have you ever wondered what wetlands actually do for society or the environment?

Barbara Walther, senior ecologist, said these areas, a place between water and land, provide value to both communities and Mother Nature. She said wetlands support many benefits that range from habitat for plants and animals to water purification. “Wetlands provide a number of functions on the landscape,” she said. “Some of them are important to people directly, and a number of them are important just because of the function they provide.”

Those functions can be seen on a daily basis. Walther said one of the major roles of wetlands is water quality. “Wetlands are nature’s coffee filter,” she said. Polluted water can enter a wetland system; and, through the processes in the wetland, it can come out fairy clean. Walther said cleaner water means there is less of a need to treat water for drinking purposes, and it helps to provide for a better overall ecosystem. “The treatment is minimized because of the wetlands,” she said.

In addition to clean water, wetlands provide other valuable benefits to both the environment and society. Walther said wetlands provide flood management and storage. She said during times of flooding, wetlands act like a sponge and absorb waters that would otherwise impact rivers and communities downstream. She added that wetlands can store excess flood flows, reducing impacts to the environment and communities living near wetlands.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “An acre of wetland can store 1–1.5 million gallons of floodwater. The ability of wetlands to store floodwaters reduces the risk of costly property damage and loss of life—benefits that have economic value to us.”

Wildlife is also another resource that receives value from wetlands. Often referred to as the nurseries of nature, “75 percent of commercially harvested fish are wetland-dependent,” according to the EPA. “Add shellfish species and that number jumps to 95 percent,” Walther said many animals use wetlands not only for raising their young and protecting them, but also for the food sources found within these unique ecosystems.