Today is World Wetlands Day, and Environment America is celebrating one of nature’s most vibrant and vital types of habitats, and the tremendous benefits wetlands provide for our waterways, wildlife and communities. We are also commemorating World Wetlands Day by acknowledging the tremendous risk that wetlands face, as the Trump administration moved just this week to slash protections for millions of acres of wetlands across the nation. Read on for more:
In the summer of 1993, the Mississippi River swelled 20 feet above its flood stage in St. Louis, tearing down levees, inundating farm land, and destroying property. By the time the flood had subsided, it had killed 48 Midwesterners and destroyed $20 billion in property, making it the most costly flood in United States history at the time. And it could have been prevented by wetlands.
That’s because wetlands act as a giant sponge to soak up floodwater; an acre of wetlands can hold up to 1 million gallons of floodwater. In St. Louis, the floodwaters would have been absorbed, and disaster averted, had there been an additional 13 million acres of wetlands along the Mississippi’s shores. Yet more than twice that acreage of wetlands had been drained and destroyed across the Upper Mississippi Basin since 1780, depriving the residents of St. Louis of this vital protection by 1993.
Unfortunately, that story has been repeated again and again, most recently when a hurricane of epic proportions smashed into the Gulf Coast and wreaked havoc on the Houston area, killing 103 people and damaging $125 billion in property. Just as in the case of the 1993 flood, Houston’s historic wetlands, which had been drained and developed over the years, could have dramatically reduced loss of life and property.
Wetlands provide a wide array of important functions and benefits in addition to flood control. They also act as the kidneys of our lakes, rivers and streams, filtering out pollutants and ensuring that our waterways are fishable, swimmable and drinkable. It is impossible to imagine great waterways such as the Great Lakes or the Chesapeake Bay staying clean and healthy without substantial stretches of wetlands ringing their shores.
Wetlands are also a home for many fish and wildlife species, valuable transition zones between land and water that offer protection and many sources of food. That’s why one-third of endangered and threatened species in our nation depend exclusively on wetlands for habitat, and one-half of North American birds nest or feed in wetlands. With so much wildlife activity, wetlands are also a popular destination for hunters, anglers and birdwatchers, whose rustic pastimes can disappear along with the former wetlands.
Given all of these important benefits of wetlands, we think World Wetland Day is an excellent opportunity to celebrate these vital, vibrant habitats.
But as we celebrate our wetlands, it’s also important to acknowledge that our wetlands are at significant risk. Since 1600, we’ve diked, drained and paved over 50 percent of our wetlands, resulting in a loss of more than 100 million acres of habitat.
If we want clean water, wildlife habitats and nature’s best flood protection, we should be doing everything we can to save every last acre of wetlands that the United States still has. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction. Last year the administration proposed cutting the Coastal Zone Management Program, which provides funding for the restoration of coastal wetlands, by 35 percent. And just this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed the implementation of the Clean Water Rule, which restored federal protections for millions of acres of wetlands across the United States.
Today, as we celebrate World Wetland Day, let’s call on our elected officials to protect these habitats that are so vital for our water, wildlife and communities.
To make sure that we have a positive future for our nation’s wetlands, please call your U.S. senators today. Ask them to fully fund coastal resiliency programs that protect and restore wetlands, and to oppose efforts by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to undercut protections for our wetlands.