DOVER, DE, Feb. 28, 2012 -- A new report concludes that despite heightened public awareness of the importance of wetlands and stronger conservation efforts throughout the state to combat their loss, Delaware continues to surrender critical wetlands at an alarming rate.
The report, "Delaware Wetlands: Status and Changes," released this week prior to the biennial Delaware Wetlands Conference, documents that the loss of quality wetlands in the state far outpaces the acres of wetlands that have been created and restored. The report describes the valuable functions of Delaware's wetlands, including helping to purify the state's waters, reducing flooding by capturing and holding water, contributing to groundwater supplies, protecting the coast from storms, and providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife species.
The report also references recommendations made in an earlier report by national wetlands experts on best practices adopted in other states which could prove effective at reversing the trend of significant losses in Delaware.
The status and changes report is now available online at: www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands/Pages/DelawareWetlandsStatusandTrends.aspx .
As wetlands are lost or degraded, their ability to improve water quality and reduce flooding in a cost-effective way is greatly diminished. DNREC is committed to working with other regulatory agencies, land-use decision makers, planners, and the public to share this important information and improve wetland protection throughout the state. The status report also contains information on wetland health, wetland characterization by county and drainage basin, and functional analysis (how natural functions provided by wetlands are affected). An earlier trends report on change to wetland acreage was done for the 10-year period ending in 1992, but did not include assessment of function.
The report was released concurrently with updated wetland maps for the entire state, which will improve DNREC's ability to provide more accurate data for environmental decision-making. The recent mapping effort documented 320,076 acres of wetlands.
DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara emphasized the importance of slowing the decline of Delaware's wetlands. "Wetlands are critically important to public health and safety of all Delawareans," he said. "We must work together to protect these valuable resources that help provide clean water, reduce flooding and storm damage, and provide important fishery and wildlife habitat. Through a combination of incentive programs, market-based mechanisms, and appropriate regulatory requirements, I am confident that we can protect these critical natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations."
A comparison was made between the 1992 and 2007 maps detailing where there were losses, gains, or changes in wetland resources, and whether causes were natural or man-made during the 15-year span. Man-made causes associated with development or lands transitioning to development contributed to 58 percent of loss through the filling or draining of wetlands. During this time period, Delaware experienced a net loss of 3,126 acres of vegetated wetlands. This represents an almost 10 percent increase in acres lost per year from the 1992 status and trends report. "Delaware has already lost over half of its original wetlands, and the losses continue," said Mark Biddle, environmental scientist with DNREC's Division of Watershed Stewardship.
"DNREC is not only evaluating losses, but is also considering the health of our remaining wetlands. We have incorporated functional analysis in this new report as a barometer for wetland health and how well wetlands are performing the beneficial services that contribute to our quality of life," Biddle noted. "Through this report and other wetland health sampling, we are seeing an increase in degraded wetlands due to secondary impacts such as increased pollutants coming from surrounding land use. Therefore we're not only losing wetlands and their services in entirety due to direct impacts, but we are also finding diminished wetland function due to secondary impacts. Additionally, we are in the beginning stages of evaluating economic and societal costs of losing wetland functions."
Causes of wetland losses remained relatively the same, with forested wetlands as the most impacted during both reporting periods. While losing vegetated wetlands, Delaware experienced a net gain of 2,285 acres of ponds. However, many of these non-vegetated ponds were for stormwater control in new developments -- and while important for surface water detention, these ponds do not provide the level of benefits as yielded by natural wetlands.
Delaware has benefitted from a strong state law protecting tidal wetlands passed in 1972 and the associated regulatory program administered by DNREC. Tidal wetland losses have been minimized due to the implementation of the law -- the report shows a loss of just over 38 acres with more than 21 acres being created between 1992 and 2007.
Already, DNREC scientists are meeting with the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to zero in on why these alterations are occurring to the wetland landscape. While many factors can affect wetlands, the new mapping effort may help determine exact causes. Once closer analysis is complete, this information will be incorporated into existing wetland programs in Delaware for improved protection of these precious natural resources.
To become more involved in wetland protection please find details on DNREC's "How You Can Help" webpage: www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands/Pages/Howyoucanhelp.aspx.
For landowners who wish to enroll in voluntary wetland restoration and protection programs please see the Wetland Restoration Guidebooks for Landowners at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/DelawareWetlands/Pages/Restoration.aspx.
This report and additional information on Delaware wetlands can be found at: www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Admin/Delaware Wetlands.