Wetlands are part of the foundation of our nation’s water resources and are vital to the health of waterways and communities that are downstream. Wetlands are often found alongside waterways and in flood plains.
However, some wetlands have no apparent connection to rivers or lakes but have critical groundwater connections. Wetlands feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollutants, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. They include swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands vary widely because of differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors. Ohio has lost approximately 90% of its original wetland acreage through degradation or destruction due to drainage, infill, development or other modifications.
Importance and Value
Federal Wetland Regulation: Section 404 of the Clean Water Act notes that wetlands are so critical to the function of natural water flow and for habitat that they were legally protected at the federal level in 1972 with section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Wetlands are categorized by the State based on their habitat quality and function for flood retention and nutrient removal; and thus have differing levels of protection. From lowest to highest quality: Category 1 wetlands are often isolated and disturbed and are not considered for restoration; Category 2 are of medium quality which hold potential for restoration; and Category 3 wetlands are the highest quality, and thus protected from development and impacts except in cases of public need as defined in the Ohio Administrative Code.
- Wetlands can slow runoff water, minimizing the frequency at which streams and rivers reach catastrophic flood levels. This is of increasing importance given the greater frequency and severity of weather events due to climate change.
- Wetlands function as a sponge and filter. They capture and hold water during storms, and release water during dry times.
- A community with healthy wetlands is therefore more resilient to both floods and droughts.
- Natural wetlands function better than engineered wetlands.
- Wetlands are great recreational amenities as well as an economic driver for activities such as canoeing, hunting, fishing, or exploring and enjoying nature.
- Wetlands provide diverse habitat.
Recommendations for Communities and Landowners
Communities and private landowners can protect any remaining wetland. Northeast Ohio cannot afford to lose any more wetlands.
- Restrict building on or in wetlands, except for sensitively designed access features such as boardwalks.
- Expand wetlands to increase stormwater retention capacity for the area.
- Mitigate wetlands (create a new wetland to replace one destroyed) within the same watershed.
- Protect and buffer wetlands by adopting the strongest possible riparian zoning regulations.
- Improve or restore Category 2 or Category 3 wetlands to better perform valuable functions including filtering impurities from water, reducing stormwater flooding, and reducing shoreline erosion.
- Protect important natural functions through riparian and wetland setbacks.
- Utilize Low-Impact Development (LID) strategies. LID is a site design approach which seeks to integrate functional design with pollution prevention measures to compensate for land development impacts on hydrology and water quality.
Resources for More Information
- Cuyahoga County Soil and Water Conservation District – works to conserve land and aquatic resources in a developed environment through stewardship, education, and technical assistance.
- Cuyahoga River Restoration – works to restore and protect the environmental quality of the Cuyahoga River, nearshore Lake Erie, and select Lake Erie tributary watersheds. This organization also publishes numerous publications and helpful guides that support their work efforts.
- Chagrin River Watershed Partners – a nonprofit organization serving communities and park systems impacted by the Chagrin River, and homeowners living in member communities.
- Ohio Wetlands Fact Sheet – a publication of the Ohio EPA that answers frequently asked questions about wetlands.
- Ohio EPA Know Before You Build instruction and Permitting information.
- About Wetlands – a US EPA website with information that describes the what, why, and how of wetlands.
- Wetlands Restoration, Creation and Enhancement – a free, downloadable publication produced by the Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration which includes:
- Background on wetlands and restoration
- Information on project planning, implementation, and monitoring
- Lists of resources, contacts, and funding sources
- Various funding sources are available to conserve, restore and enhance wetlands, waterways and natural spaces. Information can be found at: Wetlands Program Development Grants, Coalition of Ohio Land Trusts, and ODNR Grants.
- Cuyahoga County Climate Change Action Plan – an effort to set targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, implement and track actions to meet targets, and adapt to climate change across the county.