With the increase in extreme weather events and rising temperatures taking place across the world and within Vermont, wetlands are even more important now than before. Wetlands area a natural defense against flooding, erosion and mudslides, are a natural filter of pollutants, provide shade to maintain cooler waters in our rivers and lakes, and even help stave off drought conditions!
We have direct experience with these scenarios in Vermont; Tropical Storm Irene and our most recent drought conditions are perfect examples.
The Otter Creek wetland complex and floodplain lies between Rutland and Middlebury VT. Irene’s floodwaters in Otter Creek spilled over into the Otter Creek swamp complex, where it filled the broad, low-lying Otter Creek floodplain with water. Only gradually did this water flow back out of the swamp past Middlebury, resulting in a diminished peak flow compared to Rutland, protecting Middlebury from over $1.8 million dollars in damage.
This same process of water entering a wetland has important implications on helping to minimize drought. Wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and reducing flooding. During the dry season, they release the stored water, delaying the onset of droughts and reducing water shortages. We know of some communities (Jeffersonville, Dorset, and Poultney among others) which experienced water shortages this summer with some wells of private landowners running dry. While wetlands may not be able to prevent drought conditions, they can help minimize the impacts by lengthening the time it takes for water levels to drop or wells to dry up.
Wetlands in Vermont serve a variety of functions and values beneficial to the general public and to the environment. The degree to which a wetland serves these functions depends on the hydrology, soil, vegetation, size, and location of the wetland in the landscape. Although a wetland may not serve all functions, each wetland works in combination with other wetlands as part of a complex integrated system. To learn more about all the ways in which wetlands provide functions and values, please visit the Vermont Wetlands Program webpage: http://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/wetlands/functions