Wetlander's Pick of the PostsHow Much do Coastal Ecosystems Protect People from Storms and What is It Worth?

By Meg Imholt – NOAA’s Office of Response & Restoration Blog – August 11, 2014
Nearly a year ago, one lawsuit spurred the question–how much do coastal ecosystems protect people from storms and what is that worth? It’s a question NOAA scientists and economists are working to answer.
At NOAA, our job is to protect our coasts, but often, coastal ecosystems are the ones protecting us. When a severe storm hits, wetlands, sand dunes, reefs, and other coastal ecosystems can slow waves down, reducing their height and intensity, and prevent erosion. That means less storm surge, more stable shorelines, and more resilient coastal communities. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereThe Gowanus Canal: Ecology & Design Meet in Brooklyn’s Rust Belt

By Colleen Tuite – Great Ecology – July 25, 2014
Late one June afternoon, a motley crew of ecologists, molecular biologists, landscape architects, and a camera crew gathered in a vacant area of South Brooklyn’s salt storage lot. There, we donned Tyvek suits and boots, sorted empty glass jars and plastic hazmat bags, fastened life preservers, and launched canoes into the toxic waters of the Gowanus Canal. Originally a creek running through a saltwater marshland, industry began along the Gowanus in the mid-1600s, as mills were built there to take advantage of water power. In the 19th century, as industry grew the Gowanus Creek was dredged and the canal system constructed – a 1.8 mile waterway linking factories, warehouses, coal stores, and refineries to the Upper New York Bay. By World War I, the Gowanus was the busiest commercial canal in the country, and South Brooklyn a major for industrial production – and, simultaneously, industrial pollution. For full blog post,
click here.

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This past week millions of people experienced heavy rains that flooded downtown areas from Detroit to DC to Portland, Maine.  The record was set on Long Island, NY where a whopping 13 inches fell, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency as roads, basements and backyards flooded under the intense deluge.

Closer to home, I had my own moments of panic when I heard a loud explosion outside our house.  I grabbed my umbrella and cell phone to investigate, anticipating a call to 911.  Outside in the pounding rain I found a tree branch burning as it bobbed overhead on electric lines.  There were succeeding explosions from the transformers on poles close-by and loud snaps as electricity surged along the damaged wires.  The bad weather and vulnerable infrastructure had combined to create a deadly hazard and I suddenly felt keenly for the many people who had been in the storm’s path as it swept across the country.  Further reflection led me to think about the remarkable combination of natural and manmade infrastructure we take for granted and their sometimes surprising effects on each other.

Mankind has been tinkering with the natural environment for centuries, often with unintended consequences.  An example of this is the tragic story of the great Dustbowl which is sometimes described as “the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history.” The recovery from the dustbowl era led to many changes in land management and eventually the establishment of another manmade ecosystem described as the “corn-soybean ecosystem”.  This ecosystem is located on a landscape populated by perennial tall grass prairie, wet prairie, oak savannah and forests prior to European settlement.  Nowadays it is composed primarily of two plants that must be planted, fertilized and harvested every year to persist. Read more here.

But while the corn-soybean ecosystem is largely an intentional design, mankind has also managed to establish new ecosystems unknowingly.  The ‘plastisphere’ refers to a wholly new type of ecosystem that has evolved to live on the plastic and other garbage dumped into our oceans.  These plastics provide a refuge for pathogens and create new sources of toxic chemicals. Read more here.

How do manmade vs natural ecosystems differ?

A “natural ecosystem” is defined as a system in which there are significant interactions between living and nonliving processes (sometimes called biotic and abiotic).  Natural Ecosystem are broadly divided into two types:  terrestrial and aquatic.  They are generally self-regulating and self-sustaining in that they do not require external inputs to continue to exist. Examples of natural communities include deserts, forests and prairies.

A “manmade ecosystem” also has significant interactions between living and nonliving processes.  They can also be either terrestrial and/or aquatic. The difference is that manmade ecosystems require human efforts to sustain them—generally substantial effort.  For example, the corn-soybean ecosystem would likely shift from corn and soybeans to some combination of perennial plants within a season or two without the active intervention of man.  Read more here. The plastisphere would cease to exist without the ongoing introduction of manmade trash to the ocean. Examples of manmade ecosystems include cropfields, cities, man-made ponds, and cities.

In truth, all of us live in environments that exist along a continuum from natural to manmade ecosystems with remote areas of the nation at one end of the continuum and cities at the other. As a rule manmade ecosystems are greatly simplified when compared to natural ecosystems and, therefore, easier to disrupt and more vulnerable floods, drought, and other natural hazards.  A city cannot rebuild itself without human intervention after a flood.  A forest can.

Nowadays there is a great deal of talk about building communities that are resilient, i.e. better able to withstand floods, drought and other forms of natural catastrophe. But the only way to achieve that is to develop communities and cities that incorporate more of the complexity and redundancy found in natural ecosystems—that are not only more like natural ecosystems—but that incorporate and support natural ecosystems.

It is possible to envision a future where this is possible.  It happens already.  Watching the tree branch bounce and burn on that rainy evening, I called 911 and waited first for the fire department and then the power company to asses and repair the damage.  While I did so the rain put out the fire.  The nearby trees supported the broken branch, muting its bounces and preventing it from falling onto the road below.  The wood of the tree grounded the surges of electricity. Essentially, the natural ecosystem provided protection and insulation from the dangers of the manmade ecosystem.  It happens all the time and there are many actions we can take to care for natural ecosystems so they provide support and protection for the manmade ones.

To learn more about the differences between natural and artificial ecosystems, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsThanking America’s Sustainable Farmers

By Christina Badaracco – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – July 30, 2014
While working on education and outreach in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Ocean, and Watersheds, I have been particularly inspired by our work with agriculture. As an environmentalist and a foodie, I love learning about the connection between healthy food and sustainable agriculture, and I am always eagerly looking to share that information with the public. This is why I’m excited about our efforts to interview and feature for the American public “farmer heroes,” who manage the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution on their farms and grow America’s food supply in a sustainable manner.

Through our “Farmer Hero” campaign, and through my own personal purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, I am supporting farmers who protect local land and water resources while undertaking the critical role of producing America’s food supply. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereChanging Times: EPA’s Report on National Trends

By Gaelle Gourmelon – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – July 24, 2014
Some things in my childhood memories look different when I revisit them as an adult. That tall slide in the playground? It’s really only four feet high. The endless summer bike rides to the beach? They now take ten minutes. Sometimes, however, things seem different because they’ve actually changed. I recently went to a favorite childhood beach and saw that the dock was now stranded in the water, no longer reachable from the beach. Undeniable evidence of the changing coast.

But what evidence do we have to observe real changes over time when it comes to ournational environment? What data can we use to determine if our environment has meaningfully changed?

To help answer these questions, EPA released the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014) for public comment in March, and it will undergo external peer review on July 30-31, 2014. For full blog post, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

The drinking water crisis in Toledo, Ohio – resulting from toxins in the water supply produced by blue green algae in Lake Erie – has received a lot of attention in the national news.  Although these reports are compelling, there does seem to be some confusion about whether the bloom was “natural” or human induced, and whether the causes are known or unknown.  A number of news reports called for more research.  For those who live in the Great Lakes region, the need for action is urgent.  Research is good, but delay is not, and another study may be the last thing we need.  We know what needs to be done. The International Joint Commission (IJC) – which represents the interests of both the U.S. and Canada on issues related to the Great Lakes –produced a thorough report this year – A Balanced Diet for Lake Erie: Reducing Phosphorus Loading and Harmful Algal Blooms.

Blooms of blue green algae – including microcystis which produced the toxins in Toledo’s water supply – are most certainly natural phenomena, but the sheer size and increasing frequency of blooms in Lake Erie are largely the result of human actions. These blooms thrive on dissolved reactive phosphorus concentrations in the lake which have increased as a result of agricultural and, to a lesser extent, urban runoff and pointsource discharges.

Lake Erie is by nature the shallowest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes – especially the western basin – and it also receives the lion’s share of phosphorus from agricultural and urban sources.  Here are some facts gleaned from multiple sources listed at the end of this post:

  • The Detroit River contributes about 90% of the water supplying the western basin of Lake Erie – including the flow from all of the upper Great Lakes as well as urban contributions from the Detroit area – but only about half of the phosphorus load.  By contrast, the Maumee River, which flows through an agricultural area of Ohio, contributes 5% of the water and almost 50% of the phosphorus load.
  • More than half of the phosphorus loading from the entire Lake Erie watershed is from agricultural sources.
  • According to calculations made by the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, based on data from Michigan and Ohio, confined animal feeding operations contributed 3,670,841,070 pounds of liquid and solid manure to the River Raisin and Maumee River watersheds in 2013.

As the average temperature of the Great Lakes has increased as a result of climate change, algae blooms have exploded.  While climate change may not be the root cause of the bloom, increasing temperature combined with increased rainfall and nutrient runoff have certainly exacerbated it.  The impact of invasive zebra mussels on the ecology of the lakes has also contributed to the problem.

Although the problem is massive, it is also preventable. Solutions exist, but they require significant action on multiple fronts.  The IJC report includes 16 specific recommendations to address both urban and rural sources of nutrient runoff that will be familiar to anyone who has studied eutrophication and the means to protect our nations’ waters.  Some require international policy changes, while others can be readily implemented by individual property owners. For example, reduction or elimination of the spreading of manure on snow and frozen ground, which would greatly reduce spring nutrient loading.

What Does This Have To Do With Wetlands?

As with many issues related to water, wetland protection and management is one ingredient in a much larger whole, and wetland managers can make a definite contribution to solving the problem.  The IJC report notes that about 80% of Lake Erie’s coastal wetlands have been historically altered or destroyed, degrading both habitat and water quality.  However, extensive restorable areas remain: some 157,000 acres on the U.S. side of the lake alone according to a study by The Nature Conservancy. The IJC recommendations include the use of restored or engineered wetlands to reduce phosphorus loading from urban runoff, as well as in agricultural management.  Ray Stewart and Bill Mitsch of the Ohio Wetlands Association have also noted the potential for establishing wetland buffers between agricultural fields and Lake Erie.

Public Trust or Ugly Politics

It has been pointed out that the Great Lakes belong to our citizens, and that public trust should mandate protection of the quality of these waters for drinking, fishing, and other uses.  Laws like the Clean Water Act are intended to achieve those goals.

Unfortunately, currently proposed rules developed by federal agencies in response to Supreme Court decisions regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act will formalize reductions imposed by the Supreme Court in the protection for “isolated” wetlands. The same wetlands that can trap phosphorus and other pollutants and prevent them from reaching vulnerable public waters, like Lake Erie.  Another rule already set in place by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers expands exemptions for agricultural actions that impact wetlands.  These changes are directly counter to what is needed to protect drinking water in Lake Erie and elsewhere.  We can hope that these proposed changes will ultimately be tempered, and that states (and provinces) will step up where national protection measures fail.

Even more ironic may be that Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette recently joined a legal action by the American Farm Bureau Federation against the USEPA, seeking to invalidate a TMDL developed by state and federal agencies to support the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay – that is, a plan to address the same type of water quality problems that produced toxic drinking water in Toledo. Where waters serve multiple states, and are impacted by multiple states, federal programs that protect these waters are very much needed.  The message, in short, is that state and federal resource protection programs need to work in sync, as planned, to protect critical water resources.

A Fundamental Need for Water, and the Urgent Need for Action

Drinking water is one of our most basic human needs.  One would expect the crisis in Toledo to spur action to address the problem.  But, given the multiple responses that are needed from governments, farmers, conservationists, and others, it is up to all of us to initiate that action. If we do not, then it is certain that we will face this and related problems again, and that drinking water will be compromised elsewhere.  The IJC has defined the steps that are needed for Lake Erie. We just need to implement them.

More reading:

For a link to an IJC comment on the bloom and their report on harmful algal blooms, click here.

For remote images of the Lake Erie bloom from NASA, click here.

For a CBC news article, Lake Erie’s algae explosion blamed on farmers, click here.

For information about the amount of manure discharge from CAFO’s in the Lake Erie watershed from U.S. sources, click here.

For a copy of the American Farm Federation brief in a suit against the U.S. EPA regarding the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, joined by the Michigan AG and others, click here.

For a statement from the Ohio Wetlands Association addressing the Lake Erie algal bloom, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereMark Muller: Small business owners value clean water and support strong rules

By Mark Muller – The McKnight Foundation Blog – It All Starts with Science – July 23, 2014
Sometimes the gift of hindsight makes history appear less complicated than it actually was. Much of the environmental progress of the 1970s now seems obvious, and not just to traditional environmentalists — after all, few people would regret the steps taken to reverse the Mississippi River’s status as a “cesspool.” The quality of life and public health benefits of cleaner lakes and rivers are clear, and the onus placed on the polluting corporations and wastewater treatment plants now seems minimal. Yet this environmental progress doesn’t happen without important debate about the impact that regulatory tools have on jobs and the tax base, as well as general concerns about government overreach and the effectiveness of regulation. This was certainly true with the 1972 Clean Water Act, the landmark piece of water legislation that remains the most important regulatory protection for lakes and rivers.
For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsWhy Restoring Wetlands Is More Critical Than Ever

By Bruce Stutz – Yale Environment 360 – July 28, 2014
The work began at low tide on the Mispillion marsh on Delaware Bay. A field team hauled coconut fiber logs the size and heft of rolled carpets out beyond the tall cordgrass to the gray mud flat that extended from the marsh edge. Ten or so yards out, where the mudflat met the open water, an array of gray stacked blocks made of marine limestone and oyster shell was already set out. Looking like the battlements of a buried castle, this permeable reef was designed to deflect and dissipate the energy of the bay’s water as it flows toward the marsh.  If it works, this project will forestall further erosion of the existing marsh, whose banks are being undercut and washed away. And it will allow new sediment to build up behind the coco-fiber “biologs” that were staked into place to form the new marsh edge, a “living shoreline” that is the latest effort to protect and restore Delaware Bay’s tidal wetlands. For full article,
click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

An Easy Way to Support the
Association of State Wetland Managers
while shopping with
AmazonSmile

ASWM is known for engaging on the national scene with timely responses to emerging issues that protect wetlands – responding to unexpected shifts in national policy, reviewing proposed rules and legislation, meeting time-sensitive requests for technical assistance, and other needs.  However, this work can’t happen without general funding that supports efforts that fall outside our individual grant- and contract-funded projects. Donations, however, do provide this kind of unrestricted support to ASWM. We encourage our supporters to help make this critical, non-project specific work possible by making a donation to our organization.  Our staff is always available to discuss options for making donations with you or you can simply go onto our webpage (http://www.aswm.org/donate-to-aswm) and make a donation through our secure web-based donation link.

As part of our larger effort to secure this kind of funding support, we also want to make you aware of a new, supplemental opportunity to help ASWM:  The online shopping company Amazon.com will make a donation to ASWM when you shop on their site through a new service called AmazonSmile.

In 2014, ASWM became a destination charity for Amazon Smile.  AmazonSmile is an incredibly simple, automatic way for those of you who use Amazon to donate to ASWM at no cost to you when you shop. You get the same prices, selection and online shopping experience as you do on Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.

If you already shop regularly on Amazon.com, we hope you will sign-up and designate ASWM as your charity of choice.  We are always looking to find ways to help our supporters connect with ASWM and support our wetland work.  A portion of each purchase from Amazon goes to the shopper’s destination charity, in this case ASWM.

An Important Caveat: What Amazon Smile does (and doesn’t do) for ASWM

It is important to understand, however, that only 0.5% or .005 of each purchase is donated to ASWM.  This means that while there are benefits to ASWM’s participation, this effort complements, but does not replace ASWM’s ongoing efforts to receive donations, memberships, grants and contracts.

Think about it this way:  If you make a $500 purchase, $2.50 will be donated to ASWM.  If you buy something for $19.99, your donation will be 10 cents.  Consequently, lots of donations over time will make the greatest impact from this donation service.  At ASWM, we value every penny contributed to support our work.

Please note that donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible.  If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation directly to ASWM, please go to: http://www.aswm.org/donate-to-aswm.

Three Easy Steps to Use AmazonSmile:

1) Log in to the Amazon Smile page before making your order for the donation to come to ASWM. Log in on the following page:  http://smile.amazon.com.

  • You can do this either through your computer or your mobile device.
  • You may want to bookmark this page, as logging into the normal Amazon.com webpage will not allow you to make donations.

2) On your first visit to AmazonSmile, select ASWM as your charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping.

They will have highlighted charities.  You can choose from almost one million eligible 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations.

In the box entitled Or Pick Your Own Charitable Organization type in “Association of State Wetland Managers.

Each time your return to AmazonSmile, your purchases will result in a donation to ASWM, unless you change your destination charity.  Every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation to ASWM (THANK YOU!).

You can use the same account on Amazon.com and AmazonSmile. Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registry, and other account settings are also the same.   However, you have to log in through smile.amazon.com in order to make the donation.

3) Purchase products that are eligible for AmazonSmile donations.

Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile are eligible for donations. Eligible products are marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages. Recurring Subscribe-and-Save purchases and subscription renewals are not currently eligible.

And that’s it!  Once you begin shopping, Amazon will donate 0.5% of each purchase price from each eligible AmazonSmile purchase that you make to ASWM!

Thank you for supporting ASWM and we’d love to hear from you about your experience with AmazonSmile.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsDebunking Myths and Soothing Fears: Clean Water Protection Rule (WOTUS)

By Merritt Frey – River Network Blog – July 14, 2014
As you’ve read about before on this blog, earlier this year the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released a very important draft rulemaking. This draft rule clarifies which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act. As many of you know, Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 confused implementation of the Act and put many wetlands and streams at risk. This rulemaking will fundamentally influence your work to protect or restore your watershed. River Network is following up with watershed groups all to help you 1.) understand the rule, 2.) decide your position on the rule, and 3.) take action. For full blog post, click here.

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