By Tyler Gillette
Did you know that about 90% of Ohio’s wetlands have already been destroyed? This is a current and often overlooked issue in Ohio. Now, you may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Aren’t swamps and wetlands just ponds or wet areas that do not serve a purpose? Well, wetlands, in fact, are very important and useful. Other than providing wildlife habitat and recreation, wetlands are a natural solution to a variety of environmental issues. Wetlands help with erosion, flood control, groundwater quality and quantity, and drinking water quality. Wetlands slow down and collect water, decreasing the amount of erosion in an area. These characteristics are also beneficial for flood control. Using wetlands as flood control is becoming more relevant, especially with the flooding from large precipitation events like Texas saw with Hurricane Harvey. Wetlands help with groundwater through their ability to help recharge what has been used and improve the quality of the water in the soil. Additionally, they improve water quality by serving as a natural filter. They can filter out pollution over time which increases water quality for drinking water. Wetlands slowly break down toxins, sediment, and pollutants as the water sits and the soil collects it. The soil, as well as the plants and microbes that live in the wetland, also absorb these and further filter out the water.
Ohio has done a lot to restore the wetlands across the state. One of the programs that have helped was the federal program called the Wetlands Reserve Program. This helped landowners who had wetlands or wanted to create wetlands with restoration and maintenance for years to come. There are also many other legislations that have passed to prioritize wetlands. One of which made it so that, if a developer wanted to build something on a wetland, they would have to make one in its place or keep it. Because of this, many businesses and developers have tried to keep their wetlands.
Ohio should push for more wetland restoration and promote their preservation. Ohio businesses, developers, and city planners could improve their cities and businesses by using wetlands as a method of green infrastructure. Instead of using man-made methods of flood control and pollution control, why not let nature do the work for us? Wetlands can be used along with water treatment centers. Wetlands can help make our cities better while creating more habitat for wildlife and reducing our ecological footprint. They can do this by making the water in and around cities less polluted. They can reduce drinking water and wastewater pollution and take in a lot of carbon. Wetlands can sequester or absorb a large amount of carbon in their soil. They can also help with flooding in cities by storing and slowing down water. The resulting increase in wildlife habitat will also improve biodiversity, and it could generate money from people who may want to use or see wildlife that use these wetlands. Instead of spending tons of money on different treatment techniques for pollution or spending money on ways to prevent flooding, Ohio can put its money towards wetlands to accomplish these goals naturally.
There are other methods of green infrastructure used in Ohio that are contenders of increased funding. Green roofs in cities is a big one. If big cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati encouraged more green roofs on buildings, they would start seeing many beneficial results such as less air pollution, lower temperatures in the city, and greater energy efficiency. Another method of green infrastructure is wildlife crossings. If Ohio made different kinds of wildlife crossings, there would be less wildlife-human conflict like collisions. They would also help connect valuable habitats. Wildlife crossings have been studied and tested all over the world and, when placed in an effective location, make a big difference. Lastly, encouraging the Ohio Department of Transportation to mow highways less would increase the amount of natural spaces and would provide pollinators with plenty of wildflowers.
The next time you see a patch of cattails in a ditch or a pond near your local grocery store, try to remember all the natural benefits and services that they provide. Wetlands and green infrastructure can, one day, make Ohio even better than it is now.
Photos by Tyler Gillette.