As the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation, Ducks Unlimited is drawing attention to this month’s milestone 9th Annual World Water Day. World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is Water and Food Security.
“Water is our greatest natural resource,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “Unfortunately, it is often the one most taken for granted. Recognizing the importance of water to all of us is a critical first step in guaranteeing sufficient water quality and quantity around the world.”
Freshwater supplies are already a limited resource in some places, and as the world population grows from the current 7 billion to a projected 9 billion by 2050, water resources will be further strained. Conservation and restoration ofwetland habitats will continue to be keys to ensuring a sufficient and usable water supply for future generations of people, as well as wildlife.
“In addition to tremendous recreational and wildlife values, wetlands provide crucial ecological functions such as storm surge protection, flood water absorption, groundwater recharge, aquifer replenishment and water filtration,” Hall said. “Ducks Unlimited conserves these vital habitats for waterfowl, but the broader benefits of wetlands conservation to society should not be overlooked.”
Flood water absorption and storm surge reduction provided by wetlands provide significant economic benefits. A recent study estimated that 1 acre of wetlands can store more than 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. The bottomland hardwood wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater, but now have the capacity for only 12 days because most have been filled or drained. The impact of this storage loss along the Mississippi is evident as floods such as those in 1993 and 2011 have caused more than $10 billion in damages, and yearly damages are estimated at $3.5 billion. Coastal wetlands in Louisiana have been valued at more than $1,900 per acre for their storm protection functions alone.
Wetlands help recharge the underground aquifers that store 97 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. Many Americans rely on groundwater for their drinking water, and recharge is important for ensuring a sustainable supply. Groundwater resources are also in heavy demand for uses beyond potable water. Currently, 17 percent of the world’s cropland is irrigated, sometimes leading to over-pumping of groundwater. This makes the groundwater recharge ability of wetlands especially valuable. As an example, a 550,000-acre swamp in Florida has been valued at $25 million per year for its role in storing water and recharging the aquifer.
Plants and soils in wetlands play a significant role in purifying water, removing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, preventing hypoxic conditions and, in some cases, removing toxic chemicals. A typical Florida cypress swamp can remove 98 percent of all nitrogen and 97 percent of all phosphorus present in the wetland from wastewater before it enters the groundwater supply.
Hypoxia is a condition in which dissolved oxygen levels are too low (less than 2-3 ppm) and is primarily a problem for estuaries and coastal waters. Hypoxia can be caused by a variety of factors including excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, and water body stratification due to salinity or temperature gradients.
The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest such zone in the United States and the second largest worldwide, reached 6,765 square miles in 2011. The Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan, first implemented in 2008, calls for wetlands restoration as the most cost-effective means of dealing with the hypoxia issue in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Ducks Unlimited is committed to conserving wetland habitats for future generations of waterfowl and people,” Hall said. “We’re celebrating 75 years of conservation accomplishments this year, and we intend to continue delivering our mission of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”
Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, DU is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, with special events, projects and promotions across the continent. Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.
Click here to see Ducks Unlimited projects at work in Florida.