Whether they are protecting the air conditioner in our home or the engine in our car, most of us rarely give those hard working filters a second thought, until they stop doing their job. Only when something goes wrong do we recognize their importance. When it comes to the environment, wetlands are Mother Nature’s equivalent to those essential maintenance filters. In fact, according to the EPA, the economic value of the earth’s wetlands is estimated at $14.9 trillion. Yet, like so many other things in our daily life that we take for granted, we rarely think about them or fully appreciate their true value.
What Exactly is a Wetland?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service defines a wetland ecosystem as having:
- Surface water either year round or a part of each year
- Hydric soil – soil that is wet most or all of the year
- Hydrophytic plants, meaning those that grow in wet soil.
Swamps, marshes, bogs, fens, estuaries, mudflats, mires, deltas, floodplains. billabongs and more can be referred to as wetlands, although these comprise many different types of ecosystems.
The Benefits of Wetlands
- Cleaner Drinking Water – Wetland vegetation acts as a filter for toxins and pollutants. The roots absorb them and their toxicity is reduced by the time the plants release them again. Thus water that has been through wetlands is cleaner and less susceptible to algae when it rejoins the rivers and streams used for drinking. For example, the EPA approximates that the Congaree Bottomland Hardwood Swamp in South Carolina removes as much pollution as a $5 million treatment plant.
- Flood Control – Wetlands store and absorb rainwater.
- Erosion Control – They act as a physical barrier for shoreline protection and bind soil with their roots so that it is more stable.
- Fishing – They are part of the lifecycle for 75% of commercially harvested fish and shellfish and up to 90% of recreational fish species.
- Biodiversity – Although they make up 5% of surface land in the United States, they contain 31% of plant species. Furthermore, 43% of all U.S. endangered species including plants, animals, insects, and birds depend on wetlands for subsistence.
- Carbon Sinks – Both freshwater and saltwater wetland plants store carbon dioxide in their leaves and roots.
- Recreation – hiking, bird watching, photography and other tourist related activities bring in revenue for local economies.
Three Wetland Funding Sources
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) Small Grants Program
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act provides matching funds to restore and/or preserve wetlands for the purpose of protecting migratory bird populations. The U.S. Small Grants program is for smaller scale wetland conservation projects that may not be competitive in the U.S. Standard grants program because of their size. In the past 20 years, 750 projects have been supported with over $43.2 million through the small grants program. Eligibility includes local governments, Native American Tribes, nonprofits and others. Apply for the Small Grants Program by October 19, 2017. You can also check back for the next deadline for the standard grant program if you have a larger project.
Editors Note: This page was updated 8/25/17 to reflect the current year's deadline
Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant Program
This publicly-privately funded program encourages local government, conservationists, nonprofits, students and other stakeholders to protect natural resources including wetlands through environmental education,training and capacity building. Awards are between $10,000 - $40,000. Although the current application period has closed, the resource page from the EPA has links to more information about wetlands conservation, grant writing, past winners and whom to contact for questions.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)In 1987, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CSWRF) was created to fund projects that improve water quality. Each state has its own revolving fund to provide low interest loans for all types of water quality related projects. Wetland preservation and restoration programs often qualify under the CWSRF. Check with your state for specific eligibility requirements.
The Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection is a database for grants, loans and other funding sources available for a variety of watershed protection projects, including those involving wet lands.