Chagrin Valley Times
Wednesday, March 30, 2016 11:45 pm
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN chagrinvalleytimes.com
Wetlands have the ability to save the world, Ray Stewart of the Ohio Wetlands Association told a group at Bainbridge Town Hall on March 20.
“When I look out over a marsh, it changes me,” said Mr. Stewart, who spoke at the event sponsored by members of Protect Geauga Parks. “It is spiritually inspiring and psychologically soothing to see the expanse of water and wildlife. Wetlands provide benefits that cannot be measured by real estate values.”
Kathy Hanratty, who’s a member of Protect Geauga Parks, said the organization is focusing on water quality issues this year. The group’s goal is topreserve and conserve the area’s disappearing natural areas.
“We have an important role in preserving wetlands and protecting clean water,” she said.
Geauga County is an “epicenter of high quality wetlands in Ohio,” Mr. Stewart said, noting the headwaters protected for the City of Akron water supply are located in Auburn Township at LaDue Reservoir and include wetlands.
The Amherst-based Ohio Wetland Association is a volunteer, nonprofit organization with the goal of preserving “wetlands for a better Ohio,” he said. It is dedicated to the protection, restoration and enjoyment of Ohio’s wetlands and associated ecosystems. It encourages science-based programs, education and advocacy.
Ohio has lost 90 percent of its wetlands, which is second only to California, he said.
“In the big picture, the planet is less hospitable with very few areas left untouched, and clean water is becoming scarce,” he said. There are a billion people in the world without access to clean water. “We’re moving into an era where the planet is being totally altered by human beings. It’s sad.
“Climate change is a big thing,” Mr. Stewart said. “It’s happening and it is human induced.” While Northern Ohio is not seeing heat waves, summers in the Midwest are likely to be hotter with more episodes of heat and drought, he said.
Milder winters are more common, along with heavy and strong storms, he said. There is more heat energy and the distribution of water is changing dramatically, he added.
“We need to be ready for floods and droughts,” Mr. Stewart said. “It’s the extremes of climate change. Extreme flooding that takes out infrastructure is more likely.”
Toxic algae blooms are also more common in Lake Erie, he said. Heavier rains produce more yard, street and farm storm water run-off, carrying pollutants into streams, rivers and lakes that will change water quality.
“Sediment often carries more nutrients,and that’s what feeds the algae bloom,” he said.
Property owners are losing land and losing ground water in the Midwest. They are drilling deeper wells to get water, he said. Quantity and quality of ground water is more and more an issue.
The planet is losing plants and animals faster than in the past, with more extinction, he said. It is the result of habitat alteration, draining swamps and clearing forests.
“Not every organism can adapt,” he said.
But there is hope, Mr. Stewart said. While the issues seem devastating, he said we can get out of this mess by protecting and restoring wetlands.
Restoring wetlands is needed to reduce and remove carbon dioxide,a greenhouse gas that traps heat. Humans have burned so much coal and other fossil fuels over the past two centuries that the climate is changing because heat is trapped, Mr. Stewart said.
“Wetlands are the most productive systems in the world, and they are able to use photosynthesis to consume carbon dioxide, and keep it out of the atmosphere for thousands of years,” Mr. Stewart said. Wetlands reduce the effects of drought by storing water above and below ground.
Beavers are being reintroduced to restore natural systems in the western United States. Beavers build dams that create wetlands for habitat, and the result is higher quality rivers and ground water, Mr. Stewart said.
Wetlands act as sponges to temporarily store water and reduce flooding downstream, he said. Wetlands provide a biodiverse habitat for animals, waterfowl and for recreation.
“Wetlands restoration is a cost-effective way of flood management. It is so simple,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons to restore wetlands,” he said.
During flooding, water causes erosion which carries away soil, fouling the water. But flood plains allow rain water to slow and infiltrate into the ground or slowly run to the stream, preserving water quality.
Sediment costs a lot to dredge out, he said. Instead of spending money on dredging rivers, build flood plains, which he called a good investment. Water enters the ground in wetlands, replenishing aquifers and recharging wells.
Wetlands also absorb or remove nutrients such as harmful phosphorous and nitrogen. In a chart, he displayed the services of wetlands, including recreation, for fish nurseries, storm surge protection and shoreline stabilization.
“I love wetlands, and they will save the world,” Mr. Stewart said. They can serve so many purposes, he said, and he urges everyone to help save them. Many of the benefits cannot be bought or sold or measured by dollars, he concluded.
More information on Ohio Wetlands Association is available at www.OHwetlands.org.
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