What are the benefits of wetlands?
Various types of benefits can be associated with wetlands protection, as this activity helps to lessen loss and create a gain in natural wetlands and their associated functions and impacts. Such benefits may include environmental, economic, educational, societal, recreational, or aesthetic benefits. Consider the following:
- Improved Water Quality. Wetlands can intercept runoff from surfaces prior to reaching open water and remove pollutants through physical, chemical, and biological processes. The Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina removes a quantity of pollutants from the watershed equivalent to that which would be removed by a $5 million treatment plant. Therefore, wetlands provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional wastewater and stormwater treatment options.
- Erosion Control. Riparian wetlands, salt marshes, and marshes located at the margin of lakes protect shorelines and streambanks from erosion. The roots of wetland plants hold soil in place and can reduce velocity of stream or river currents.
- Flood Abatement. Wetlands can play an important role in flood abatement, soaking up and storing floodwater. According to the EPA, U.S. flood damages average $2 billion annually (with the 30 year average being closer to $8 billion annually).[4 and 5] A wetland can typically store 3-acre feet of water, the equivalent of 1 million dollars.
- Habitat Enhancement. Wetlands can enhance habitat for game and non-game species. According to EPA, wetlands provide an essential link in the life cycle of 75 percent of the fish and shellfish commercially harvested in the U.S., and up to 90 percent of the recreational fish catch. U.S. consumers spent an estimated $54.4 billion for fishery products in 2000. Wetlands also provide habitat for threatened and endangered species. Wetlands make up an estimated 5 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states, yet more than one-third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands. An additional 20 percent of the country’s threatened and endangered species use or inhabit wetlands at some time in their life.
- Water Supply. Wetlands can positively impact water supply, serving as reservoirs for the watershed and releasing retained water into surface water and ground water.
- Recreation. Wetlands can become a destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, bird watching, photography, and hunting. More than 82 million Americans took part in these activities in 2001, spending more than $108 billion on these pursuits.
- Partnerships. Wetlands protection can allow communities, individuals, businesses, organizations, and others to build partnerships through protection activities and provide various entities access to data and resources that otherwise would not be available.
- Education. Wetlands protection activities provide meaningful opportunities to educate the public regarding wetlands science, wetlands protection, and the value of water resources.
- Aesthetic Appeal. Wetlands provide a certain visual value and are often incorporated as features within landscape design.