Wetlands not only provide a valuable habitat for many species but also serve vital functions in flood control. Wetlands have a far greater absorbent capacity than non wetland areas. This sponge effect allows for rainwater to collect and be stored protecting cities and coastal areas. The collected water is then slowly released over time reducing flooding. The EPA estimates that one acre of wetland can store 1.5 million gallons of water. This can help greatly reduce the spread and intensity of floods and reduce a floods destructive power.
The size of the wetlands determines their effectiveness in flood control. Large areas have the ability to absorb more water offering better protection to the lands around them. Flooding is diminished in wetlands due to the enormous carrying capacity. In coastal areas these wetlands slow the velocity of incoming water reducing erosion and limiting how far inland the water can travel. Developments around wetlands and subsequent draining has not only diminished habitat but has made them less effective as flood barriers. The effect of wetlands is critical to all areas in reducing floods, but is especially vital to coastal areas. Hurricanes and tropical storms tend to drop heavy amounts of rain and cause massive flooding. In areas that have good healthy wetlands, the storm surge and damage tends to be moderated.
In addition to flood control, wetlands naturally filter water before it enters into lakes, rivers, and aquifers. Natural filtration provided from wetlands provides for cleaner sources of water. As water is filtered from the surface it makes its way into rivers, streams and aquifers. As human population grows there is more demand for clean accessible drinking water. Being able to use natural methods by protecting and expanding natural wetlands helps ensure that cleaner water makes it to sources that will be used for human consumption. It is much cheaper and easier to clean water the fewer minerals, chemicals, and other elements that may be present.
Wetlands are critical for biodiversity. The sheer volume of different species that rely on this habitat for its survival is mind boggling. It is estimated that over half of the birds in the United States rely on wetland to nest or feed. Considering that wetlands account for five percent of the land in the United States, this is impressive. Additionally nearly a third of all plant species in the US are found in our wetlands. The collapse of an ecosystem in one area tends to have far reaching effects on other ecosystems. Birds, fish, reptiles, small game, and insects all depend on viable wetlands to survive. They are a critical component of diversity across the world. The more that is drained for agriculture and development the greater strain placed on those that remain.
Few ecosystems are as diverse or play such a critical component on the cycle of life like wetlands. Whether people realize it or not from cleaning water to stopping floods they help protect from catastrophic floods and beach erosion. As people have gained more understanding, the vital function of wetlands has received attention and much effort has been put to stop the destruction and restore them.