Long-term solutions best answer to extreme weather events
MEMPHIS, Tenn., July 3, 2008 - In the weeks that follow a flooding event, authorities are providing immediate assistance to those suffering from the disaster, but they are also looking for answers to help provide residents with better protection in the future. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita revealed how essential wetlands in coastal areas can be to reducing the impact of flooding. The recent flooding throughout the Midwest has made it evident that more wetlands throughout America’s Heartland could be beneficial as well.
“It is essential that we view wetlands in a landscape and system-wide perspective. Wetlands in watersheds and those in association with the floodplain offer important ecological buffers to even more extreme events,” said Dale Humburg, chief biologist, Ducks Unlimited. “Treating local flooding problems is like putting an ecological band-aid on a system-wide problem.”
To date, Illinois has lost more than 90 percent of its original wetlands. These wetlands are the natural separations that occur between rivers and the landscape surrounding them. These complex systems hold water, filter sediments and slow the movement of spreading water.
Drainage systems known as “tiling” placed throughout agricultural fields divert water away from the vast number of fields throughout Illinois. Combining this with crops that are closer to creeks and roadways, loss of Conservation Reserve Program grasses, and development; has created a system where unrestricted water rushes into creeks and streams that cannot contain it.
“The land that lines the Mississippi River and its tributaries has seen the loss of a majority of its natural wetlands,” Humburg explained. “Flooding likely would have occurred this year regardless of the status of wetlands and floodplains; however, a functional wetland system would have reduced the magnitude of the flooding as the wetlands provide a “sponge-like” system to soak up water.”
Ducks Unlimited has worked with its partners to restore wetlands in those areas currently affected by Midwestern flooding. In Illinois alone, DU worked with public and private partners to conserve more than 40,818 wetland acres. Regardless of their size, depth, and often ephemeral nature, wetlands provide important functions such as flood storage, nutrient and sediment filtering, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunity.
Ducks Unlimited, the leader in wetland conservation, will continue to work with state and federal agencies, other partners and private citizens to restore and enhance critical wetlands. To learn more about wetland restoration, visit www.ducks.org and select “How we conserve.”
With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with more than 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands – nature’s most productive ecosystem – and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.