Sloughs, potholes and marshes, oh my! The names may bring back happy memories growing up on the farm, less happy memories of itchy bug bites or perhaps you haven’t thought about wetlands since grade 5. In Alberta, wetlands are grouped into five classes; bog, fen, marsh, swamp and shallow-open water. While they are sometimes thought of as a lightweight player in the world of water, these underestimated water-features do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to a healthy environment.
Have you ever wondered what wetlands are? Simply put, they are areas of land that have saturated soils and water loving plants. We could also say they are, “land saturated with water long enough to promote formation of water altered soils, growth of water tolerant vegetation and various kinds of biological activity that are adapted to the wet environment.” Climate, land features, surface and groundwater flow, vegetation and soil all determine the type of wetland.
So why should we care about that marsh we drive past every day? Because while we are waiting for the coffee to kick in and are just starting to function – it is already hard at work! Filtering out sediments and nutrients, which improves both the surface and ground water quality, they are a natural at removing harmful contaminants from the water. By storing water during times of flood, and releasing water during times of drought, wetlands can help mitigate flood and drought risks to landowners. Wetlands provide critical habitat to many types of plants and animals and are known to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world.
Wetlands affect each and every one of us; from farmers trying to have a high crop yield or keep their cattle watered throughout a dry year, to recreationalists looking for a rare bird species. Even city dwellers should be aware that wetlands help to clean, store and release water.
Despite how beneficial wetlands are to us all, it’s estimated that up to 70 per cent of the wetlands have been lost in the settled area of Alberta due to drainage or development. We know now that wetlands have an important role and are worth protecting, conserving and restoring. Marsh on my wetland-loving friends, and don’t forget to tell a friend about how fen-tastic our wetlands truly are!