Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the November-December 2015 issue of Erosion Control.
Many people think of wetlands as smelly, mosquito-ridden nuisances, but healthy wetlands provide habitat for birds, fish, amphibians, bats, and other insects that live on mosquitoes.
Wetlands are home to more than one-third of the United States’ threatened and endangered species, according to EPA. They buffer storm surges in coastal areas. They protect the edges of oceans, lakes, rivers, bays, and the smallest streams. Their vegetation holds soil in place, absorbs the energy of waves, and breaks up the flow of stream or river currents.
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They also trap snowmelt and stormwater runoff. Sediment in the water, and the nutrients and pollutants attached to the sediment, settle in the bottom, and cleaner water flows out.
In fact, wetlands are so valuable that states are restoring them and mitigating for their loss by constructing new ones.
“Constructed wetlands can be a lot of things and take a lot of different forms,” says David Whitney, a civil engineer and owner of EcoSolutions LLC in Westford, VT. “What they all have in common is that they all incorporate plants and they are all saturated with water for extended periods of time.”
Many constructed wetlands are used as stormwater BMPs. They also might mitigate for land reclamation or the loss of protected habitats to development.
While natural wetlands have a wide diversity of plants and animals that have evolved over long periods of time, wetlands constructed as stormwater BMPs have less diversity because it is simply not possible for designers to completely recreate natural wetlands with native plants, stone, and other materials. The plants are critical because they have adapted to the wetlands and filter stormwater well: “the workhorses of the plant world,” Whitney calls them.Add Erosion Control Weekly to your Newsletter Preferences and keep up with the latest articles on erosion control: erosion control devices, geosynthetics, sediment control devices and soil erosion.