Nav: Home

Federal funds help Virginia increase wetland benefits

December 09, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced two major grants designed to help Virginia protect and restore its wetlands. These watery habitats--which range from forested swamps to tidal marshes--nurture countless species of wildlife and play a key role in keeping pollutants from flowing into Chesapeake Bay.

One grant is a $356,000 award to William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science and its Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM). The other provides $750,000 to Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Both grants will support three years of effort to advance and refine the Commonwealth's latest State Wetlands Program Plan--a blueprint for not only preventing any net loss of wetlands, as specified by the U.S. Clean Water Act, but for increasing Virginia's wetland acreage and ecological function.

"Wetlands play a significant role in protecting our nation's water supply," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin during a press conference on the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point. "By taking action to protect and restore these valuable resources, DEQ and VIMS are protecting sources of our drinking water, preventing flooding, and making us more resilient to climate change."

Also speaking at the press conference was Dr. Mark Luckenbach, VIMS' associate dean of research and advisory services, who thanked EPA for "generous support that will allow us to continue guiding the informed management of Virginia's threatened wetland resources."

Dr. Carl Hershner, VIMS professor and CCRM director, says "the funding will help us determine which wetlands are most vulnerable to climate change, and how we can maximize their continued capacity to provide important ecosystem services." Wetlands serve as nursery and feeding grounds for waterfowl, finfish, and shellfish; protect against flooding and erosion; absorb silt and pollutants; and provide for recreational opportunities.

Dr. Donna Bilkovic, project lead and a research associate professor with CCRM, says the new grant will expand on previous EPA awards that helped VIMS focus on headwater wetlands. "We'll be developing a framework for assessing the vulnerability of wetlands along a continuum from headwaters to tidal salt marshes," she says. "We'll use both field data and modeling to pinpoint the coastal wetlands that are most vulnerable to climate change, and to identify management options for their preservation or managed retreat in light of rising seas."

The VIMS team will also inform decision-making by mapping historic changes in the geography and plant life of Virginia's wetlands. They'll do so by comparing wetland conditions as recorded in a tidal-marsh inventory conducted by CCRM in the early 1970s with similar measures recorded recently and planned for the next few years. They'll focus this effort in two distinct wetland settings: along the entire length of the York River on Chesapeake Bay's western shore, and at coastal sites along Virginia's Eastern Shore.

The basic idea, say Bilkovic and Hershner, is to give local planners the data they need to make informed decisions regarding development and preservation. "A commercial or residential development that would have minimal impact on a healthy wetland could significantly affect a wetland that's already stressed by warmer temperatures, more intense rainstorms, rising sea level, and invasive species," says Hershner.

Adds Bilkovic, "A wetland that 's subjected to high wave energy and is surrounded by lots of paved surfaces will be more sensitive to both climate change and human stressors. But if it's in a low-lying area with a steady supply of sediment, we might give it a chance to survive by providing the space to migrate landward."

Wetlands, WetCAT

The grant to Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality will fund development of strategies to help planners better identify and protect wetlands of high ecological value. High-value wetlands include the forested headwater swamps that capture pollutants and sediments before they can enter the tributaries that feed Chesapeake Bay.

DEQ Director David K. Paylor says, "Our wetland resources play a critical role in environmental health, and Virginia appreciates the opportunity to make the best possible use of this grant. Providing much-needed attention to aquatic resources is a key priority in our efforts to help restore and protect the quality of our wetlands and improve climate resiliency."

One focus of DEQ's effort will be to expand and upgrade the Wetland Condition Assessment Tool, or WetCAT. Developed in collaboration with VIMS, WetCAT is an online mapping tool that helps people throughout Virginia minimize wetland impacts when making planning decisions.

David Davis, director of DEQ's Office of Wetlands and Stream Protection, says his staff will use the EPA funds to help "extend WetCAT to include online regulatory data from the US Army Corps of Engineers, a modification specifically requested by various user groups."

Dr. Kirk Havens, assistant director of CCRM, played a key role in developing WetCAT and joins Hershner, Bilkovic, and CCRM colleague Marcia Berman as collaborators on DEQ's EPA-funded project.

Havens agrees the EPA funding will help make WetCAT even more effective. "It will give users the ability to assess the condition of even the smallest wetland, and determine how it might be impacted by changes in land cover within its watershed," he says.

"The overall goal," adds Havens, "is to provide easy access to comprehensive local information to meet the needs of planners, regulators, and property owners."

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at