Wetlands: solution to our water blues

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Aerial photo shows Glenfinnan Marsh, P.E.I.

By Krista Elliott (commentary)

“Water, water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.”
— The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

World Water Day is March 22. And while Coleridge may have been speaking of the sea, his words are a hard and painful reality in today’s world, where fresh, clean drinking water is becoming an increasingly rare commodity.

The theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Water and Energy”. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), eight per cent of global energy generation is used to treat, pump and transport water to consumers.

These figures are only expected to rise, as the global population increases and sources of fresh water are increasingly threatened. It becomes a vicious circle — the need to process water requires large amounts of energy generation, and yet, large quantities of water are required to generate this energy, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear and thermal energy sources. (source: UNIDO)

What many people do not know is that wetlands are nature’s unsung heroes in the global quest for clean water. Often referred to as “nature’s kidneys,” they help filter impurities out of the water before it winds up in our watersheds. The plants and soils in wetlands remove high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Some wetland plants have been found to accumulate heavy metals in their tissues at 100,000 times the concentration in the surrounding water. (Source: ducks.org)

Wetlands have proven to be water filtration powerhouses, even for large filtration jobs.  

Rather than building a filtration plant to treat drinking water supplied by upstream watersheds, New York City (NYC) entered into a long-term watershed protection initiative with upstream stake-holders.

NYC’s water needs are considerable: 1.3 billion gallons per day to 9 million people in New York City. Building a new plant would have cost $8 billion, with $200-$300 million in operating/maintenance costs.

By committing to the preservation of wetlands and having an “Overarching goal . . . to ensure that undeveloped, environmentally-sensitive watershed lands remain protected and the watershed continues to be a source of high-quality drinking water to the City and upstate counties,” the overall bill was around $507 million — a savings of almost $7.5 billion, and untold amounts of energy savings as well.

These savings of money and energy are being felt in Canada as well. New research from Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) shows that for every $1 that DUC invests in wetland and natural land conservation, Canadians enjoy $22 in economic, ecological and societal benefits.

Every year, DUC’s investment in wetlands has the equivalent value of $828 million in waste treatment and water purification and $234 Million in regulation of water flow.

Ducks Unlimited Canada is working hard to protect wetlands, so that they can continue to benefit us all. Here in Prince Edward Island, DUC has secured over 13,000 acres of wetland since 1938, and continues to work with our supporters and partners to ensure that this important habitat continues to be protected.

A world without fresh water is unthinkable, and so is a world where we spend large quantities of money and energy to obtain it. On World Water Day, think about wetlands, nature’s unsung hero, and help us ensure that they will be around to help us out for generations to come.


Krista Elliott is communications co-ordinator, Atlantic Region, Ducks Unlimited Canada

Organizations: Ducks Unlimited, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Geographic location: New York City, Canada, Prince Edward Island

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