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Wetlands: Protecting Life and Property from Flooding

Floods have caused a greater loss of life and property and have devastated more communities in the United States than any other natural hazards.

Wetlands are natural buffers against floods. They soak up and store a significant amount of flood water, helping to reduce the frequency and extent of floods. These miraculous bodies slowly release the stored waters after peak flood flows have passed, in turn reducing property damage downstream.

Wetlands are the link between water and land, transition zones, if you will, with unique ecosystems characterized by having water, soils, and vegetation. There are a number of different kinds of wetlands including prairie potholes, vernal pools, bogs, swamps, and freshwater and saltwater marshes. In addition to storing flood waters, wetlands offer a variety of other benefits. They

Over half of the wetlands in the US have been drained or filled - this is one reason that floods have become more costly. Floods impact man-made developments that have encroached into the wetlands and into areas where the water would normally reach during floods (floodplains); and, as a result the water can no longer enter the ground at a more leisurely natural pace. The loss of most (more than 90% in some states) of the wetlands in the upper Midwest contributed to high flood waters during the Great Flood of 1993. Restoring some of these vanished wetlands could help reduce future flood losses (the 1993 flood caused extensive damage throughout the Upper Mississippi River watershed) and enhance stream-flow during dry periods.

Ten Things you Can Do to Protect Wetlands

There are many ways to get involved in protecting and restoring wetlands.

  1. Contact your local Corps of Engineers District Office to participate in permit decisions that affect wetlands in your area.
  2. Keep wetlands in mind when landscaping your property. Plant native grasses or trees as buffers along wetlands to protect water quality.
  3. Limit the quantity of chemicals applied to your lawn. This will help to reduce polluted runoff into wetlands and other waters.
  4. To minimize and avoid impacts on wetlands when developing or improving a site, get advice from your state environmental agency before altering a wetland.
  5. Invest in wetlands by buying duck stamps. Proceeds from these waterfowl stamps support wetland acquisition and restoration. The stamps are available on-line at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.s web site ( or at your local post office.
  6. Work with neighbors to help protect the health of a wetland near you - clean and keep it free of trash.
  7. Inquire with your local government to find out what it is doing to protect wetlands in your community.
  8. Investigate the possibility of restoring or improving a local wetland.
  9. Join a volunteer group to help protect wetland animals and save their habitat.
  10. Locate wetlands near you. Contact a local parks department or Wildlife Refuge about visiting wetlands.

For additional information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website