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May 11, 2013

Wetlands and Flood Control

Grays Lake
Flood damages in the U.S. average $2 billion each year, causing significant loss of life and property. Wetlands can play a role in reducing the frequency and intensity of floods by acting as natural buffers, soaking up and storing a significant amount of floodwater A wetland can typically store about three acre-feet of water, or one million gallons. An acre-foot is one acre of land, about three-quarters the size of a football field, covered one foot deep in water. Three acre-feet describes the same area of land covered by three feet of water. Coastal wetlands serve as storm surge protectors when hurricanes or tropical storms come ashore. In the Gulf coast area, barrier islands, shoals, marshes, forested wetlands and other features of the coastal landscape can provide a significant and potentially sustainable buffer from wind wave action and storm surge generated by tropical storms and hurricanes. After peak flood flows have passed, wetlands slowly release the stored waters reducing property damage downstream or inland. One reason floods have become more costly is that over half of the wetlands in the United States have been drained or filled. The loss of more than 64 million acres of wetlands in the Upper Mississippi Basin since the 1780s contributed to high flood waters during the great floods of 1927, 1993 and 2011 that caused billions of dollars in damages and the loss of hundreds of lives. Additionally, the damage sustained by the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina could have been less severe if more wetlands along the coast and Mississippi delta had been in place.
"If  there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water."

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