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Water of Life. Justin Borevitz Prairie Ecosystems 4/17/07. Wetlands. Fish biodiversity as a biomarker of water quality Flooding bring in fertility Diverse habitats == diverse life forms Niche exploitation

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water of life

Water of Life

Justin Borevitz

Prairie Ecosystems


  • Fish biodiversity as a biomarker of water quality
  • Flooding bring in fertility
  • Diverse habitats == diverse life forms
    • Niche exploitation
  • Foods are part of the prairie drainage of the Rockies and part of the ecosystem evolution
ephemeral pools
Ephemeral Pools
  • Water provides constant flux
    • El nino, heavy rains, floods, fill new lakes
      • Ox-box lakes, connect isolated regions
      • Mixing of biodiversity
    • La nina, drought, lakes dry
      • isolation of ecoregions
      • life concentrates in deeper reserves
  • Prairie Potholes


Wetlands are areas that are periodically or permanently inundated by surface or ground water and support vegetation adapted for life in saturated soil. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.


What do wetlands do?

Wetland Functions

Habitat nesting, spawning, rearing and resting sites for aquatic and land species, food chain production

Hydrology protection of other areas from wave action and erosion, storage areas for storm water and flood water, ground and surface water aquifer recharge

Water water quality protection, water filtration and Quality purification, treatment of nonpoint source runoff

dcm wetland classification
DCM Wetland Classification
  • DCM Wetland Types:
    • Swamp Forest
    • Bottomland Hardwood
    • Pocosin
    • Pine Flat
    • Hardwood Flat
    • Managed Pine
    • Freshwater Marsh
    • Salt/Brackish Marsh
    • Estuarine Scrub Shrub
    • Estuarine Forest
    • Maritime Forest
    • Headwater Swamp
    • Human Impacted


  • Partially Drained/ Ditched
  • Cut-over
  • Cleared

Why are wetlands important?

Wetland Values

  • maintain biodiversity
  • provide habitat for animals
  • maintain water quality
  • support commercial fishing, forestry
  • reduce flood damage
  • hiking, fishing, hunting,
  • bird watching, boating
  • aesthetic value

Did you know?

Nationwide, an estimated 50 million people spend approximately $10 billion annually observing and photographing wetland-dependent birds.

wetland and water quality trading limits and trade offs

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Wetland and Water Quality Trading: Limits and Trade-Offs

Albert F. Ettinger

Senior Attorney

Environmental Law and Policy Center


Feb. 16, 2006

legal framework tmdls

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Legal Framework – TMDLs
  • Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act a total maximum daily load (TMDL) study must be completed for impaired waters
  • NPDES permits cannot be granted that are inconsistent with a TMDL
legal framework 40 cfr 122 4 i

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Legal Framework – 40 CFR §122.4(i)
  • No permit may be issued:

(i) To a new source or a new discharger, if the discharge from its construction will cause or contribute to the violation of water quality standards. The owner or operator of a new source or new discharger proposing to discharge into a water segment that does not meet applicable water quality standards … must demonstrate …

(1) There are sufficient remaining pollutant load allocations to allow for the discharge; and

(2) The existing dischargers into that segment are subject to compliance schedules designed to bring the segment into compliance with applicable water quality standards.

controls should be place on nutrient pollution now

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Controls should be place on nutrient pollution now
  • Impose permit limits under antidegradation rules – New pollution is not necessary to accommodate important social or economic development under 40 CFR 131.12(a)(2) if it can be avoided through affordable controls
  • Enforce narrative standards as required by law
  • Develop numeric nutrient standards asap
nutrient controls

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Nutrient Controls
  • Nutrient limits are already in place in Great Lakes, in discharges to many other lakes and in discharges to some rivers
  • Illinois just established a 1 mg/L P limit for major new or increasing discharges
using wetlands to reduce nutrient loadings

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Using Wetlands to reduce nutrient loadings
  • Nitrogen farming clearly seems to be a way to reduce nitrogen pollution
  • Jury still out on phosphorus
  • Environmentalists certainly will generally support wetlands restoration
enforceability 2

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Enforceability 2
  • How do we detect violations if a discharger has bought a credit?
  • Does monitoring of performance of the wetland credit appear on the discharger’s DMRs?
  • How do we quantify and report the reduction of pollution created by the wetland?
  • Will it be possible to take enforcement action against the discharger if the wetland fails to produce the expected pollution reduction?
the environment must win

Environmental Law & Policy Center

The Environment must win
  • Either persons benefiting from trading should pay for it through fees or a substantial “fee” should be charged by the state in the form of a much larger reduction being required than 1:1
  • We generally cannot allow Peter to be robbed to help Paul

Notice: The views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scientists in EPA have prepared the EPA sections, and those sections have been reviewed in accordance with EPA’s peer and administrative review policies and approved for presentation and publication. The EPA contributed funding to the construction of this website but is not responsible for it's contents. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

stressor checklist
Hydrologic Modification


Dissolved oxygen

Contaminant toxicity

Vegetation alteration




Thermal Alteration


Stressor Checklist
plant based ibi metrics s miller
Plant-based IBI metrics - S. Miller
  • Tested over 40 potential plant metrics
  • Selected 8 to build IBI
    • Adjusted FQAI
    • % Annuals
    • % Non-natives
    • % Invasives
    • % Trees
    • % Cryptogams (ferns and fern allies)
    • % Cover of tolerant plant species
    • % Cover of Phalaris arundinacea
the dead zone

The Dead Zone:

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico


Condition that occurs in coastal waters where:

• Little or no oxygen is present

• Little or no marine life can survive

The term for low oxygen is hypoxia. Hypoxia=<2 mg/l dissolved oxygen (DO)

The term for no oxygen is anoxia.

Anoxia =0 mg/l dissolved oxygen


In the U.S., hypoxia occurs in coastal waters in New York, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.


Since 1985, the dead zone has ranged in size from about 100 square miles in 1988 to over 8,500 square miles in 2002, one of the largest coastal dead zones in the world

In Louisiana, the dead zone occurs west of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers hypoxia occurs from late spring until late summer.


Starfish, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers, brittlestars and anemone are all benthos


  • Stressed or die
  • Decreased diversity
  • Degraded environment


  • Food base is reduced and/or lost
  • Habitat is reduced and/or lost
  • Recruitment is disrupted
  • Migratory patterns are disrupted
  • Species diversity is reduced
  • Mortality increases


  • Commercial fisheries
  • Recreational fisheries
  • Tourism
  • Economy
  • The dead zone decreases the ability of the Gulf to produce seafood. This affects the local economy.

Warm Temperatures

Warm spring and summer temperatures heat

the water surface.



Calm seas decrease oxygen

exchange at the surface.



Warm fresh water and nutrients are delivered by the Mississippi River and float on the denser saltwater.


A stratified layer is formed with lighter, fresher, warmer water at the surface and heavier, saltier, cooler water near the bottom limiting oxygen mixing throughout the water column.





Stratified Layer

No O2 mixing






The Mississippi River drains 41% of the lower 48 United States. It carries water and sediment hundreds of miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Municipal & industrial runoff



Cattle, pig and poultry farm runoff

Wastewater treatment

Nutrients include compounds which contain:

• Phosphorus

• Nitrogen

• Silica


Microscopic algae or phytoplankton use these nutrients to reproduce. Excess nutrients enable plankton populations to explode, causing a plankton or algal bloom.


When plankton die, they sink to the bottom and decompose.

During decomposition bacteria use up most or all of the available oxygen.

Dead Plankton

No O2



Changes in land use from

  • Land use practices
  • • Fertilizer use
  • • Poor management practices



Flood control

Urban expansion

Lead to:

Loss of natural habitat


Change flood control practices

  • Use fertilizers more efficiently
  • Control discharges of nitrogen
  • Create and restore wetlands
  • Reduce nutrient loading
  • Manage the whole system

Hydrological cycle accelerated (1)

Mountain snow/ice lost (2)

Trees removal increases runoff, reduces transpiration, affects water table and landscape salinity (3)

Wetlands dried up or drained (4)

Ground- and surface water used for irrigated agriculture (5,6)

Dams alter flow and reservoirs increase evaporation (7,8)

Industrial water coolers release water vapour (9)

Transfers between basins (10)

Urban, mining and construction areas alter water flows and quality (11)

Coastal salt water intrudes inland (12)

Impoundments reduce flows (13)

Siltation, erosion and nutrient flows change coastlines and affect water quality (14)

Levees and locks modify flows and channels (15)

Settlements alter floodplain landscapes (16)

Grazing affects runoff and water quality (17)

Industry causes acid rain (18)

Coastal waters polluted and species lost (19)

dams and the environment
Dams and the Environment

Not only bad for migrating fish…

  • Loss of land, cultural & biological resources
  • Sediment traps
    • Reduce reservoir
    • Less sand for beaches
  • Change entire downstream

river & organisms

Hoover Dam, Source: US Bureau of Reclamations

case study olentangy river
Case study: Olentangy River
  • FLOW
  • Issues: water quality, habitat, recreation
  • Dams no longer useful
  • Project to demolish unused ‘low-head’ dam, with integrated OSU research-education opportunities
  • Increase species diversity, safer for recreation, better fishing, swimming(?)
  • Funded by ‘scenic-river’ license plates and donations
  • Sierra Club sued Columbus from sewage releases into Olentangy, settled to remove 5th Ave dam.
  • 11 remaining dams, EPA cites them as top threat to Olentangy
nc bay of pigs
NC Bay of Pigs
  • Hurricane Floyd, 1999
  • Unrestricted pig farming…on floodplains…20 mil tons waste per year…in low cost “lagoons”
can wetlands help stop the dead zone in gulf of mexico
Can wetlands help stop the “dead zone” in Gulf of Mexico?


Mitch et al., 2001


Map of artificial wetlands project for treatment of agricultural wastewater at Avondale (near Phoenix) Arizona.

© 2003 John Wiley and Sons Publishers

coastal wetland loss and katrina losing a storm buffer
Coastal wetland loss and Katrina:losing a storm buffer

(PHOTO BY ELLIS LUCIA / The Times-Picayune)

Each year an area of marsh close to the size of Manhattan is lost.

tracking the loss
Tracking the Loss


Source: http://www.publichealth.hurricane.lsu.edu/Louisiana%20Coastal%20Land%20Loss.htm


causes of loss lack of sediment reaching gulf
Causes of Loss:Lack of Sediment Reaching Gulf

Sources: http://www.lewis-clark.org/content/content-article.asp?ArticleID=1412


causes of loss sediment sent out to sea
Causes of Loss:Sediment Sent Out to Sea

The sediment is “shot over the shelf like peas through a peashooter, and lost to the abyssal plain.” - John McPhee

causes of loss dredging of canals
Causes of Loss:Dredging of Canals

Source: http://marine.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/LAwetlands/lawetlands.html

Other causes of loss: subsidence due to lack of sediment and exacerbated by withdrawals of oil and natural gas

mrgo mississippi river gulf outlet
MRGO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet)