Purify, Provide, Protect
Aside from providing scenic vistas, serving recreational purposes, and fueling Delaware's ecotourism economy, wetlands have many other important functions. They clean and replenish our drinking waters, provide habitat and food for wildlife, absorb floodwaters, and protect our coasts from storm damage and sea level rise. Because of the great benefits wetlands provide, it is important that they are given the protection they need so they can continue to be healthy areas for plants, animals, and humans.
Water is in continual motion, interacting with everything it touches including buildings, cars, streets, and farmland. As it moves, it carries things like fertilizers and soils along with it. When it reaches wetlands and their forested buffers, the water is absorbed and the purification process begins. These planted areas slow the flow of water, trap sediments, and allow plants to use the excess nutrients, resulting in cleaner water. This water then enters our groundwater systems, streams, and rivers.
Wetlands are economically, socially, and environmentally important in Delaware. They provide food, shelter, and fun for many species of plants and animals. Some of Delaware's most unique animals, like the marbled salamander (pictured above) call wetlands home. An estimated 85% of our fish species that are important commercially and recreationally rely on tidal wetlands. Additionally, wetlands offer opportunities to explore the outdoors by hiking, hunting, and birdwatching.
During storms, wetland plants help to reduce wave energy to prevent damage to properties. Their extensive root systems help hold sediments in place and stabilize the shoreline, protecting against erosion. Wetlands also act like sponges by absorbing water during higher tides or large rain events. Then, they slowly release the water, which reduces the amount of flooding that occurs. It is estimated that one acre of wetlands can hold 330,000 gallons of water.
Reducing capital costs
According to a 2018 report, the annual economic value of water quality (including water treatment, wastewater treatment, and wastewater assimilation) from Delaware wetlands is an estimated $474 million each year.
A 2012 study by the EPA compared costs between wastewater treatment by natural processes and by treatment plants and concluded that watershed protection is less expensive than building and operating new engineered infrastructure.
We've got your back, wetlands
There are several sections within DNREC that devote their time and energy in wetland science to learn more about how the needs of humans and the needs of the environment intersect. The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) is part of a national reserve system that monitors and collects the same data around the country so that we can learn about changes in the estuarine environment over time as well as detect shifts in patterns from one area to another. DNERR not only conducts research, but they also value education and stewardship in promoting informed coastal decision-making. Additionally, the Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment Program evaluates the health of wetlands through watershed report cards.
Page reviewed 3/6/19