Water-Related News

U.S. losing valuable wetlands at alarming rate

The losses threaten flood control, wildlife habitat and clean water

Roughly 670,000 acres of salt marshes and swamps — greater than the land area of Rhode Island — disappeared between 2009 and 2019 in the contiguous 48 states, a Congressional report released last week shows, threatening key flood controls, wildlife habitats and access to clean water.

Mandated by Congress, the recent Wetlands Status and Trends report is the sixth such document since 1954. It is published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Wetland loss leads to the reduced health, safety and prosperity of all Americans,” wrote U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, in the report’s preface. “When wetlands are lost, society loses services such as clean water; slowing of coastal erosion; protection against flooding, drought and fire; resilience to climate change and sea level rise.” There are also losses in fish, wildlife and plant habitats.

Not only is the U.S. losing sheer acreage of wetlands, but the rate of loss has also increased by 50% since the turn of the century, or about 21,000 acres per year. The remaining wetlands are being transformed into ponds, mudflats and sand bars; these are known as non-vegetated wetlands — a change that alters “wetland function and lead to the reduction of wetland benefits, like the mitigation of severe storms and sea level rise, and water quality improvement …” the report reads.

It’s likely that the loss of wetlands will accelerate over the next decade. Fish and Wildlife’s recent study period ran from 2009 through 2019 — before the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision that stripped environmental protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands nationwide. (In North Carolina 2.5 million acres lost environmental protection because of the decision, as well as the legislature’s passage of the 2023 Farm Act that cemented it into state law.)