Restoring tidal wetlands could lower the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and offset the impacts of climate change, according to research released this month by Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE).
In a report on research conducted in Washington’s Puget Sound, scientists show that the 1,353 hectares—or 3,300+ acres—of wetlands that are planned or under construction in the sound’s Snohomish Estuary will help remove at least 2.55 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next century. This is equal to the annual emissions of 500,000 average-sized cars.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that can trap heat in our atmosphere and contribute to climate change. It is the top greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, but it can be removed from the atmosphere by plants, which need it to create food.
When wetlands take in carbon dioxide, excess carbon is stored in organic-rich soils. When wetlands are drained and developed, however, carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Restoring wetlands can reactivate this carbon sequestration process.
“This report is a call to action,” said Steve Emmett-Mattox, senior director at RAE and co-author of the study, in a media release. “We need to invest more substantially in coastal restoration nationwide and in science to increase our understanding of the climate benefits which accrue from coastal restoration and protection efforts.”
In addition to climate benefits, wetlands can improve water quality, support fisheries and reduce flood risks. But according to a 2013 report, the United States is losing wetlands at a rate of 80,000 acres per year, and the rising seas of climate change threaten to turn wetlands into shallow bays.
Related research from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has shown that high levels of carbon dioxide can help wetlands create new soil faster, which could help the habitats move to higher elevations ahead of rising seas.
A new report from the University of Richmond School of Law calls on Virginia to better protect its residents from chemical contaminants, millions of pounds of which are released into the environment each year by industries across the state.
Image courtesy gac/Flickr
The report, authored in part by Noah M. Sachs, director of the law school’s Center for Environmental Studies, examines the sources of chemical contaminants in Virginia and concludes that the Commonwealth should expand its existing toxic chemicals program, empower the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to clean up more contaminated sites and enact legislation and permit conditions more stringent than federal standards.
According to the report, Virginia’s industries released almost 40 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, water and land in 2011. While this represents a drop in releases compared to 2010, the discharge of chemicals into rivers and streams remains significant and, in some cases, could impact in the Chesapeake Bay.
The report notes that more than 250 facilities are allowed to send toxic chemicals into Virginia waters, and the state’s tributaries rank the second worst in the nation as measured by the amount of contaminants discharged into them. While some of the worst-ranking tributaries—like the New and Roanoke Rivers or Sandy Bottom Branch—do not drain into the Bay, the James River ranks forty-fifth in the nation for total toxic discharges and ninth in the nation for the discharge of toxics that affect human development.
Contaminants on the state’s land have also had an effect on water: a number of the 31 sites listed as contaminated under the federal Superfund program involve contaminated drinking water, surface water and groundwater.
Virginia is not the sole watershed state that faces contaminated rivers and streams. According to 2012 assessments, 74 percent of the Bay’s tidal tributaries were partially or fully impaired by chemical contaminants.
In a January 2014 editorial published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sachs recommended putting toxic chemical regulation “at the forefront of Virginia’s environmental agenda.” He wrote, “Our report recommends a comprehensive program to protect Virginians, beginning with strict permitting, increased inspections, new state authority to remediate contaminated sites and more funding and personnel.”
It’s been fourteen years since the last Chesapeake Bay agreement was signed, and much has changed in the decade and a half since Chesapeake 2000 was written. We have learned more about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to conservation. We have improved how we monitor our progress. We are aware of the impacts of climate change, which will make it more difficult for us to achieve our goals. And we have watched an Executive Order and a “pollution diet” be issued, the first directing federal agencies to step up their restoration work and the second calling on states to reduce pollution entering rivers and streams. In this time, we have also recognized the need to revisit our previous Bay agreements and better coordinate our future efforts to efficiently and effectively accomplish our restoration goals.
After countless meetings, discussions and a preliminary public comment period, the Chesapeake Bay Program is now seeking review and comment on a final draft of a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Like past agreements, this one is a result of negotiations and compromise, and will guide the six Bay states and the District of Columbia in their work to create a healthy and vibrant watershed.
This draft agreement is more focused than past versions. It contains seven high-level goals and twenty-two measurable, time-bound outcomes. These will allow our partners—which, for the first time, include West Virginia, New York and Delaware—to focus on top restoration priorities and better measure progress. Indeed, one of the agreement’s most significant improvements is its inclusion of management strategies, which will describe how and when we intend to achieve our outcomes as we engage local communities, develop indicators of success and report on our progress. Management strategies bring an unprecedented level of transparency to our work, and provide a higher level of accountability than previous agreements have done.
But to make this the best agreement possible, we need to hear from you. And we have tried to make the public comment process an easy one: the draft agreement is available here, and we will welcome comments until March 17, 2014. You can offer input at the March 13 meeting of the Management Board or submit an online comment or an email to the Bay Program. Learn more.
Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.
Three decades after the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed, the Chesapeake Bay Program is seeking public input on a new agreement that will guide partners in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and recommit stakeholders to conservation success.
Image courtesy JoshuaDavisPhotography/Flickr
The draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement establishes a series of goals and outcomes that address water quality, fisheries and habitat, land conservation, public access and environmental literacy. Signatories will include the states of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Delaware; the District of Columbia; the Chesapeake Bay Commission; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
By signing the agreement, partners will commit to taking the steps needed to attain a healthy watershed: to lower nutrient and sediment pollution; to sustain blue crabs, oysters and forage fish; to restore wetlands and underwater grass beds; to conserve farmland and forests; and to boost public access to and education about the environment.
“Healthy, sustainable fisheries, plentiful habitats for wildlife, conservation efforts and citizen actions that support clean water and clean air—this is how we create a healthy Bay,” said Bay Program Principals’ Staff Committee Chair and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joe Gill in a media release. “Connecting our citizens to these resources through public access and environmental education completes the picture, instilling the personal sense of ownership key to our progress.”
“The goals and outcomes that are outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement are interrelated: improvements in water quality can mean healthier fish and shellfish; the conservation of land can mean more habitat for wildlife; and a boost in environmental literacy can mean a rise in stewards of the Bay’s resources,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “By signing this agreement, Bay Program partners will acknowledge that our environment is a system and that these goals will support public health and the health of the watershed as a whole.”
The draft is available here. The Bay Program welcomes comments on this draft between January 29 and March 17, 2014. Interested parties can offer input at the March 13 meeting of the Management Board or by submitting an online comment or an email to the Bay Program. Learn more.