wetlands

Learn, Explore and Take Action During American Wetlands Month!

By Cynthia Cassel

May marks the 26th anniversary of American Wetlands Month, a time when EPA and our wetland partners across the country celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to our ecological, economic, and social health. EPA and a host of other public and private partners planned a number of events as part of this year’s celebration. Here are a few highlights:

Migratory Bird Day

water and birdsOn May 14, International Migratory Bird Day celebrated its 24th anniversary with events hosted at hundreds of sites throughout the Western Hemisphere, reaching hundreds of thousands of youth and adults.

As part of the 24th anniversary celebrations, the theme “Spread Your Wings for Bird Conservation” highlighted the importance of international efforts to conserve birds through the RAMSAR Convention, which protects wetlands on a global level and the many ways we, as citizens, can take action to ensure that these protections remain in place. Wetlands serve as important bird habitats for breeding, nesting, feeding and other needs.

One of these lovely spring weekends here in the Heartland, pack up the kids and take a short driving trip to Cheyenne Bottoms in Stafford County, Kan., or Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Reno County, Kan., to actually view, enjoy and learn about these winged wonders in our very own Wetlands of National Importance.

Wetlands Trivia

Hardwood SwampsTo celebrate American Wetlands Month, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) is posting Wetland Trivia to its Facebook page Monday-Friday throughout May. Fun little tidbits include trivia quizzes, interesting and unusual facts about wetlands, wetland photo quizzes, and great ideas for ways you can celebrate American Wetlands Month at work and at home. To join the fun, visit the ASWM Facebook page.

And for a real adventure in wonderment, please explore these very special wetlands:

Nebraska Sandhills Wetlands

The Sandhills of Nebraska are contiguous sand dunes that cover just over one quarter of the state. The area lies above the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from South Dakota to Texas. The freshwater wetlands of the Sandhills are vital for collecting rainwater, snowmelt and runoff that recharges the aquifer, and they also provide vital habitat for countless waterfowl and shorebirds, including endangered Whooping Cranes.

Flowering plants in Iowa wetlandThis wetland system ranges from small shallow marshes to large deep lakes, and from forests to prairie to aquatic vegetation.

Alkaline (or saline) lakes form in basins where there is little rain. Flowing water dissolves minerals (salts) from the rocks and soil, and this salt-laden runoff collects low in the basin, forming a lake. Water in the lake evaporates, but the salts stay behind. Over time, the salts build up and create an alkaline lake. Salt flats and lakes are unique in that little vegetation grows there, yet these wetlands are a popular stopover for many migratory birds.

For More Information

About the Author: Cynthia Cassel has worked as a Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program grantee with EPA Region 7’s Wetlands and Streams Protection Team for 6½ years. She received her Bachelor of Science from Park University. Cynthia lives in Overland Park, Kan.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Why I Love Wetlands

by Carol Petrow

Forested wetland Photo credit: Carol Petrow, EPA

Forested wetland
Photo credit: Carol Petrow, EPA

May is American Wetlands Month which makes it a perfect time to talk about a passion of mine. Wetlands are the vital link between land and water.  What is not to love about them?

EPA proclaims that “Wetlands are natural wonderlands of great value.”  My sentiments exactly! They provide important benefits to people and the environment by regulating water levels within watersheds, reducing flood and storm damage, improving water quality, providing important fish and wildlife habitat, and supporting educational and recreational activities.

To protect and restore our nation’s wetlands, EPA partners with other federal, state, local and tribal governments using regulatory authority as well as non-regulatory approaches, such as developing voluntary restoration and protection programs for wetlands.

With a membership consisting of federal and state regulatory personnel and scientists, the Mid-Atlantic Wetland Workgroup provides a forum for exchanging ideas, information, and strategies to facilitate the development and implementation of state wetlands monitoring and assessment programs that support restoration and protection.  At EPA, we’ve found over the years that, effective approaches to wetland protection engage individuals and communities.  Volunteer monitoring programs empower citizens to become more active stewards of wetlands in their communities.

Tidal marsh wetlands Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Tidal marsh wetland
Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

Like people, wetlands come in all different types and sizes.  Some are wet all the time, while others sometimes appear dry.  Some have trees and shrubs, some only grasses or mud.  They can be large or small.  Nearly every county and climatic zone in the country has wetlands – so there are lots of wetlands to love, and you are never far from one of these natural wonderlands. To find a wetland near you, consult your local parks department, state natural resource agency or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

During May and throughout the year, Learn! Explore! And Take Action to learn about and protect our wetland gems.

 

About the author: Carol Petrow is the Acting Team Leader of the Wetlands Science Team in the Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division, Office of Monitoring and Assessment.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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An Early Spring in Philadelphia

by Jeff Lapp

These native pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) will be in bloom just in time for EPA's Flower Show exhibit.

These native pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) will be in bloom just in time for EPA’s Flower Show exhibit.

Just a few weeks ago, as I stepped out into the crisp air – 4 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact – I was well aware that spring had yet to come to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Crunching through several inches of snow, I made my way to the greenhouse which harbored signs of a season yet to emerge.  I opened the door and was greeted by phlox, azaleas, pitcher plants and ferns; the scene looked more like May than the bitter February day outside.

Staff from EPA’s Mid-Atlantic office are in the final stages of constructing scenery, forcing plants, and designing posters for EPA’s display at the 2016 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Flower Show.

In our 26th year of participating in this event, EPA’s display “Preservation and Protection: Saving America’s Natural Heritage” supports the theme of this year’s show: the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service. Our National Parks play an important role in habitat and resource protection.  Increasing awareness of the significance of wetlands is an important part of EPA’s mission; EPA’s Flower Show display highlights the role of wetlands and headwater streams in maintaining watershed health and the diverse native plant palette contained within these ecotones.

Carex lacustris is a sedge native to the mid-Atlantic that can be used as an alternative to many of the invasive asiatic species used in landscaping

Carex lacustris is a sedge native to the mid-Atlantic that can be used as an alternative to many of the invasive asiatic species used in landscaping

If you plan to visit the Flower Show, be sure to visit EPA’s display and celebrate the wonder and awe of our National Parks. And you just may get an early taste of spring in the process.

 

About the author: Jeff Lapp is a Wetlands Scientist who has been working at the Region since 1989 and has been designing and forcing for the show since 1991.  He is an avid botanist and grows many native plants, specializing in our native pitcher plants, at his home in Bucks County.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Regional Waters

Water bodies come in many shapes and sizes. As EPA and the U.S. Army developed the Clean Water Rule, the agencies relied on the latest science to determine what water bodies should be protected. Streams and their wetlands that clearly have an impact on the health of downstream waters are protected by the rule. In particular regions of the country, there are unique water bodies that are also scientifically shown to influence the health of downstream waters and therefore may be protected under the Clean Water Rule. These unique water bodies are critical resources for the surrounding communities – for fishing, hunting, and recreation; for their ability to filter pollution to streams and rivers; and reduce flooding.

PRAIRIE POTHOLES
Newprairie-potholesPrairie potholes are a complex of glacially formed wetlands, found from central Iowa through western Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and North Dakota. Potholes accumulate and retain water, reducing floodwaters and filtering pollution before it goes downstream into nearby streams and rivers. Prairie potholes are also rich habitat for plants and wildlife. In particular they are vital to hunting in America, as they play host to 18 species of waterfowl. They are also are popular for birdwatching, with 96 species of songbirds, 36 species of waterbirds, 17 species of raptors and 5 species of upland game birds.

CAROLINA AND DELMARVA BAYS
NEWdelmarva-bayCarolina and Delmarva bays are ponded wetlands along the Atlantic coastal plain from northern Florida to New Jersey. Carolina bays are most abundant in North Carolina and South Carolina, while those found in the Delmarva Peninsula are commonly referred to as Delmarva bays. Bays typically are close to each other or to streams, and connect to each other and to downstream waters in large rain events. Carolina bays and Delmarva bays filter out nitrogen, which reduces the pollution entering groundwater and flowing downstream. These bays are important nursery grounds for amphibians and reptiles.

POCOSINS
NEWpocosinPocosins are evergreen shrub and tree-dominated landscapes that are found from Virginia to northern Florida, but mainly in North Carolina. Typically, there is no standing water present in these peat-accumulating wetlands, but a shallow water table leaves the soil saturated for much of the year. The slow movement of water through pocosins removes nutrient pollution and acidifies the water. This water is slowly released to downstream waters and estuaries, where it helps to maintain the proper salinity, nutrients, and acidity.

VERNAL POOLS
NewVernal-PoolsVernal pools are shallow, seasonal wetlands that accumulate water during colder, wetter months and gradually dry up during warmer, drier months. In California they typically occur as complexes of pools, connected to each other and to seasonal streams. Vernal pools are rich in biodiversity and wildlife moves between the pool complexes and streams and other downstream waters. With climate change increasing the severity of drought in the West and specifically California, the protection of upstream water resources is even more essential.

COASTAL PRAIRIE WETLANDS
NEWMatagorda-potholesAlong the Gulf of Mexico from western Louisiana to south Texas, freshwater wetlands occur as a mosaic of depressions, ridges, flats, and mounds on the landscape. Texas coastal prairie wetlands are locally abundant and function together to impact the health of downstream water bodies. Collectively as a complex, Texas coastal prairie wetlands can be connected to each other and contribute flow to downstream waters. Cumulatively, these wetlands control nutrient release levels and rates to downstream waters, as they capture, store, transform, and pulse releases of nutrients to those waters.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Reasons We Need the Clean Water Rule

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army are finalizing a Clean Water Rule to protect the streams and wetlands we rely on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

As summer kicks off, many of us plan to be outside with our friends and families fishing, paddling, surfing, and swimming. And for the lakes and rivers we love to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them have to be clean, too. That’s just one of many reasons why this rule is so important. Here are several more:

Clean water is vital to our health. One in three Americans get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution without the Clean Water Rule. Finalizing the rule helps protect 117 million Americans’ health.

Our economy depends on clean water. Major economic sectors—from manufacturing and energy production to agriculture, food service, tourism, and recreation—depend on clean water to function and flourish. Without clean water, business grinds to a halt—a reality too many local small business owners faced in Toledo last year when drinking water became contaminated for several days.

Clean water helps farms thrive, and the rule preserves commonsense agriculture exemptions. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock across streams have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. The final rule doesn’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions, and even adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales—all to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way. Just like before, a Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed—and all exemptions for agriculture stay in place.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Impacts from climate change like more intense droughts, storms, fires, and floods—not to mention warmer temperatures and sea level rise—threaten our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can protect communities by trapping floodwaters, retaining moisture during droughts, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. With states like California in the midst of historic drought, it’s more important than ever that we protect the clean water we’ve got.

Clear protections mean cleaner water. The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of polluted waterways. But Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protections into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the Agencies used the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies—which showed small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

You asked for greater clarity. Members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public called on EPA and the Army to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. With this rule, the agencies are responding to those requests and addressing the Supreme Court decisions. EPA and the Army held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over a million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. All of this input shaped and improved the final rule we’re announcing today.

Just as importantly, there are lots of things the rule doesn’t do. The rule only protects waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act. It doesn’t interfere with private property rights, and it only covers water—not land use. It also doesn’t regulate most ditches, doesn’t regulate groundwater or shallow subsurface flows, and doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.

These are just a few of the many reasons why clean water and this rule are important—learn more here, and share yours with #CleanWaterRules.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Five Ways Streams and Wetlands Keep Us and Our Environment Healthy

You may have heard that we’re proposing a rule to clarify which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act. Right now, 60 percent of our streams and millions of acres of wetlands lack clear protection from pollution and destruction.

You might not think that your local stream or that wetland in the woods is a big deal, but the water that flows through it could end up hundreds of miles away as someone’s drinking water or where people swim or fish. Streams and wetlands aren’t just a little piece of our water system; they’re the foundation. They generate a large portion of the water that ends up in our lakes and rivers – so what happens upstream affects everything that lies downstream, including the water that flows by our homes and out of our taps.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Puerto Rico Shows the Power of Community Involvement in Protecting Waterways

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

Deputy Assistance Administrator Mike Shapiro talking with Harvey Minnigh, Cristina Maldonado (CEPD), and Graciela Ramirez (CECIA-InterAmericana) about the progress of the construction of a filter for the community of Mulas Jagual in Patillas, Puerto Rico.

By Mike Shapiro (cross-posted from It’s Our Environment)

Growing up, I remember playing along the mud flats by Newark Bay and pondering why the water nearby was so dark and sticky. I later learned that the water and mud flats were contaminated with oil and other substances. While Newark Bay is still far from clean by our current standards, today when I return to my home town I can see progress from the cleanup and restoration that is taking place.

Our work with communities to improve water quality makes a big difference. I flew to Puerto Rico in February to visit two projects that have made tremendous strides in improving the health of communities there – thanks to dedicated project leaders who empower local people and collaborate with local and federal government agencies to protect their waterways.

My first visit was to Mulas Jagual in Patillas, where the city and its residents are building a filter to treat water that will serve 200 households. This is an incredible accomplishment for a community that only a few years ago was taking water from a local river and piping it directly to their homes without any treatment. Through an EPA grant, they received training and technical assistance from a university in Puerto Rico. They learned about chlorination and formed a board to help manage their community water system.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Mike Shapiro stands with Jose Font from the EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, community leaders and members of Project ENLACE, a government organization whose mission is to implement the $744 million land use and development plan for Cano Martin Pena.

My second visit was to the Martin Pena Channel, a 3.75-mile tidal channel located within San Juan Bay. During the early 20th century, substandard dwellings were built within the wetlands bordering the channel, using debris as fill material. Over 3,000 structures now discharge raw sewage into the remains of the channel. Poorly maintained sewer systems result in flooding, regularly exposing 27,000 residents to polluted waters. In 2014, we awarded a grant of $60,000 to design a new stormwater drainage system. We’re currently working with our federal partners on a major dredging project that would restore water flow within the channel.

Administrator Gina McCarthy declared February to be Environmental Justice Month. It’s important to provide minority and low-income communities with access to information and an opportunity to better protect their health. Clean water is a vital piece of the puzzle for the health and safety of all Americans.

About the author: Mike Shapiro is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water where he performs a variety of policy and operational functions to ensure the effective implementation of the National Water Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Farmers Using Special Crops in Holtwood, PA to Protect Soil & Help Their Farms Thrive

By Kate Pinkerton and Erika Larsen

It is hard to imagine anything growing in fields during winter, but last fall, we visited a farm in Pennsylvania that was covered in thriving, green crops. This farm showcases crop research and water quality conservation practices on agricultural lands. One of its practices is planting “cover crops” – or crops planted specifically to help replenish the soil and protect our waters outside of the typical farming season.

We are two coworkers in the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) program in the EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. We come from two different backgrounds – agriculture and water quality – to help farmers ensure that nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen stay on the farm where they help crops grow, rather than getting washed into our rivers and streams where they can build up and become nutrient pollution, or the excess of the vital nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen.

Farmers plant cover crops to improve and protect their soil and keep these nutrients from washing away in runoff, especially when they’re not growing crops they can sell. A variety of plants can be used as cover crops, including grasses, grains, legumes or broadleaf plants. By planting cover crops, farmers help the environment and themselves by increasing their soil’s health and water retention, potentially increasing crop yields and creating more habitat for wildlife.

The 200-acre farm we visited in Holtwood, PA – owned by Steve and Cheri Groff – produces corn, alfalfa, soybeans, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins. Annual cover crops help the farm be productive by maintaining a permanent cover on the soil surface at all times. During the tour, we talked with the Groffs about how cover crops store nutrients for the next crop and impact yields, what cover crop mixtures to use and the benefits of having multiple species. We also watched demonstrations on cover crop rooting depths, and how cover crops help soil health and water/nutrient cycling.

We were joined by other local farmers, agricultural conservation NGO staff, and representatives from other government agencies, including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency. Rob Myers, Regional Director of the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, said, “When you compare fields that are normally bare in the fall with a cover crop field capturing sunlight and protecting soil and water, it’s a pretty striking comparison.”

We enjoyed checking out the Groffs’ farm and seeing the wonderful progress that has been made on cover crop use and research, and we’re excited by the opportunities to collaborate to improve soil health and water quality. We hope to see this field continue to grow!
To learn more about cover crops please visit our website: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/agriculture/covercrops.cfm.

 

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

ORISE program participant Kate Pinkerton, Chief of the Rural Branch in EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management Allison Wiedeman, and ORISE program participant Erika Larsen stand in front of a cover crop research plot at Steve and Cheri Groff’s farm in Holtwood, PA.

 

About the authors:

Erika Larsen is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the Nonpoint Source Control Branch in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Erika is a soil scientist from Florida and currently works on agriculture and water quality issues.

Kate Pinkerton is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) program participant on the Hypoxia Team in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. Kate is originally from Kentucky and studied environmental science at American University. She currently works on nutrient pollution and hypoxia issues in the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Scientific Report Shows Strong Connection between Wetlands, Streams, Rivers and Estuaries

The following excerpt is reposted from “EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA Leadership

Aerial photograph of river and wetland

EPA recently released a scientific report about the connectivity of U.S. waters.

By Lek Kadeli

You may have noticed along a favorite hiking trail that some streams only appear after rainfall, or maybe you’ve seen wetlands far from the nearest river. You probably didn’t think about the importance of those smaller water bodies. But a new scientific report we’re releasing today shows that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.

Our researchers conducted an extensive, thorough review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies to learn how small streams and wetlands connect to larger, downstream water bodies. The results of their work are being released today. The report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, is a state-of-the-science report that presents findings on the connectivity of streams and wetlands to larger water bodies.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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EPA: Protecting Water: A Precious, Limited Resource

Summer is when many families head to our oceans, lakes, and streams to fish, swim, and enjoy our nation’s waters—bringing water quality and safety to the top of our minds. EPA has a critical mission to make sure our nation’s water resources are safe for drinking, for recreation, and for aquatic life.

Earlier this summer, I asked EPA employees to share the innovative work they’re doing to protect our nation’s water resources. I’d like to share some of their great stories with you.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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