By Madeline Seveland
Carver County Water Management
Wetlands are generally low areas whose soils are saturated with water either above or just below the surface and are covered with plants that are adapted to the wet conditions. They are among the most productive ecosystems we have, providing many functions to the land including preventing flooding, preventing erosion, filtering pollutants and cleaning water, and providing habitat for a wide array of plant and animal life.
Protecting and restoring wetlands is critically important to reducing pollution in our lakes and rivers and having clean water. Educating younger audiences on this concept is equally important. Carver County uses a wetland metaphor game to educate K-12 students about wetlands. Here are some of the metaphors found in almost everyone’s home that can be shared with your family to help us better understand wetlands.
Beds are places for rest and sleep. Wetlands are similar to beds, providing places of safety, rest and sleep for many animals, including migratory birds. Migratory birds fly up to several thousands of miles each year. Without a chain of wetlands, many birds would not find rest or shelter and would not survive the migration. Imagine flying thousands of miles without a break!
How often do we start the day with a nice cup of coffee? Wetlands are similar to a coffee filter they capture the small impurities (excess nutrients, sediment, and toxins), allowing clean water to move on. Without wetlands, our lakes and rivers become polluted with too much sediment or nutrients which then cause algae blooms, muddy waters, loss of oxygen, and thus a loss of fish and other species and unsafe recreational use.
Wetlands provide nutrient rich food for wildlife and humans. Without them wide varieties of species lose their food sources and can no longer survive. In fact, certain cultures depend solely on food from wetlands (think rice). Just like these cultures, many animals depend on the unique traits of wetlands to produce the food that they need.
We use sponges for cleaning and soaking up liquids. Wetlands are like sponges because they absorb excess water caused by urban and rural stormwater runoff and the wetlands retain this water for a long time just like a sponge after use. Without wetlands absorbing excess water, flooding occurs which threatens communities, individuals, animals and plants.
Wetlands also store this water that can be used at a later time, similar to a rain barrel, and facilitate a large amount of evaporation which lessens the loads on our strained rivers and streambanks.
Wetlands are absolutely vital to keeping our lakes and rivers clean and free of excess sediments, nutrients and toxins. But today, less than 50 percent of original wetlands remain in Carver County (about the same state wide). Protecting existing wetlands and restoring historic wetlands will help improve the health of our lakes and rivers, the species we find there, and the recreation for us and everyone downstream.