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Bob Wuerth, 07/26/2007


The “cheese” is moving in the land development industry, but is the perception of certain land types and their potential uses moving with it? Historically, wetlands (referred to as bogs, swamps, marshes, and wet meadows) have been viewed by land owners and developers as wasted unusable land or obstacles that need to be worked around. But is this perception accurate?


The fact is wetland environments serve numerous functions that benefit humans and the development industry alike. Of all the positive functions that wetlands serve, the three most important to the development industry are water quality, flora and fauna habitat, and storm control.


Wetlands are the kidneys of the earth. Typically associated with, and located adjacent to, bodies of surface water, wetlands purify and filter surface water as it makes its way to our lakes and streams. In Pennsylvania, the number one pollutant of surface water (by volume) is sediment. When surface runoff flows downhill, its velocity increases, resulting in the accumulation and transportation of large amounts of sediment, nutrients, and agricultural chemicals toward surface waters. As the runoff enters the wetland environment, the velocity of the runoff is slowed, allowing for the suspended sediment to be deposited before reaching the streams. With the sediment now out of suspension, the dissolved nutrients associated with agricultural practices are utilized by wetland plants. The result is an abundance of thick, hearty vegetation. This mass of vegetation traps the sun's energy and aids microorganisms in breaking down pesticides and other harmful chemicals.


While wetlands help maintain the quality of our creeks and streams, they also keep us safe and protect our property. Wetlands act like sponges, soaking up rain and storing flood waters. These flood waters are slowly released into streams, lakes, and groundwater resulting in less damage and impact from flood water. The slow release aids in controlling surface water fluctuations during storm events, hence reducing the occurrence of flood events, and reducing the potential for property damage.


In addition to storm control and water quality, wetlands provide habitat for a wide spectrum of wildlife species. Thousands of species of plants, insects, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals call wetlands home. This high level of biodiversity not only provides countless recreational opportunities such as bird watching, hunting, and fishing, but provides us with an opportunity to live side by side with wildlife.

Now that we have established that wetlands are a gift and not a burden, imagine life without them. Our streams would be interbedded with sediment, covered in algae blooms, polluted with chemicals, and able to support very few species of wildlife. In addition, flooding events would be more frequent, and property damage would rise expediently.


Wetland environments are fragile ecosystems that once gone, are not always able to be replaced. By “moving with the cheese”, we can harness the positive attributes of wetlands, and apply them to the land development process.


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18 Nov 2013



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