Water Quality in Iowa
Not all wetlands are created equal
News Release: Wetland Restoration in Iowa — Challenges and Opportunities


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IOWA CITY, Iowa (May 10, 2012) — Wetlands provide an important anti-pollution role in Iowa's environment, and benefit wildlife habitat as well, but well-intentioned wetland restorations do not always produce the best results.

A new study from the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP) examines different types of wetlands — including restored or newly created wetlands — and the impacts of public policy in their development.

“Even the best intentions are not always enough,” said William Crumpton, an Iowa State University professor and lead author of the report, “Wetland Restoration in Iowa: Challenges and Opportunities.”

“While restored wetlands can function much like natural wetlands with respect to bird use and water quality, they must be managed carefully. Few property owners or land managers have the time and money to take a sufficiently active approach to that part of the equation.”

The report recommends comprehensive wetlands policy for the state on both public and private land, and covering both constructed and restored wetlands.

It also suggests better transparency of information for wetlands projects using taxpayer dollars to allow for better evaluation, clear guidelines and expectations for sites being used to mitigate wetland losses, and better certainty about changes in federal legal jurisdiction over wetlands will affect application of water quality standards.

The authors note that studies have shown the vegetation of restored wetlands seldom matches that of natural wetlands and that vegetation of most remnant natural wetlands in Iowa has been altered. Many wetland restorations fail to achieve the vegetation quality of natural wetlands, and what's left of natural wetlands is at risk.

“Some people might take a ‘something is better than nothing’ approach to wetland restoration, thinking that having a wetland, any wetland, is better than nothing at all,” said Will Hoyer, an IPP research associate and co-author of the report, with Crumpton, Arnold van der Valk of ISU and David Osterberg, executive director of IPP.

“But that is not necessarily true. So policy makers should look at how they can make existing wetland restoration programs better. Doing so will benefit the environment, as well as hunting and other recreational opportunities that strong wetlands offer.”

According to the report, the effectiveness of some wetlands at removing nutrients — pollution — can be limited.

“To improve water quality at a watershed scale, wetlands must be located appropriately and be sufficiently large,” Crumpton said.

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research and analysis organization based in Iowa City. Reports are available at www.iowapolicyproject.org.

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