BENTON HARBOR Two groups in Michiana are teaming up to bring awareness to area wetlands. The Friends of the St. Joe River Association has partnered with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission to host a workshop and tour on Thursday, geared toward municipalities and government officials.
A wetland is the area where land and water meet, often characterized by the plants that grow there. They are commonly near rivers and streams but can also appear in low-lying, isolated areas. Experts say the resources play an important role in cleaning water, preventing floods and providing wildlife habitat.
"These wetlands that are beside the river actually serve as filters and remove a lot of the sediment, nutrients, pollutants that would be in the water before they get to the river," said Matt Meersman, the president of the Friends of the St. Joe River Association.
Wetlands are decreasing nationwide, including in Indiana and Michigan where more than 50% of the saturated lands have been drained for construction, agriculture and roads. And experts say it's about more than acreage lost. In Cass County, they have lost 28% of their wetlands leading to 37% loss of floodwater storage. In St. Joseph County, they have lost 92% of acreage and 92% of floodwater storage.
"When we get a big rainfall or snow melt event, these wetlands act like containers, sponges, to hold all that run off and slowly release it throughout the year to our rivers and lakes. When we lose wetlands through draining or filling, when that rain falls, that water is rushing right to the river or lake without being held," said Meersman.
The groups are using new data from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to emphasize the need for maintaining current wetlands and restoring those that have been lost. The survey, conducted between 2011-2013 is shedding light on how to better protect water resources in terms of zoning and planning.
To learn more about wetlands, or the "Wetlands Working for your Community Workshop and Tour" on Thursday, click here.