Conference Highlights Delaware’s Health And Strategies For Protection And Restoration of Wetlands

Conference Highlights Delaware’s Health And Strategies For Protection And Restoration of Wetlands

Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife
Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife

DOVER, DE –-( Delaware’s wetlands status and strategies to slow loss and keep them productive and healthy was the focus of the Delaware Wetland Conference held on Jan. 20.

More than 175 scientists, conservation organizations, land use planners and decision makers attended the full-day conference designed to share resources, information and programs that help preserve and protect wetlands and the valuable services they provide to all Delawareans.

In his welcoming remarks, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin P. O’Mara called for a more comprehensive and integrated approach to wetland protection and policy.

“The severe flooding challenges that we face in this state demand new and creative solutions based upon the best science available. While we will work hard to be more efficient in our permitting and drainage efforts, there are no quick fixes. We need to address the many factors that contribute to local flooding, including the loss of wetlands that have the capacity to hold hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per acre, while also improving our water quality and providing critical habitat for fisheries. Now we must translate our scientific analyses into concrete actions that will protect the health and safety of residents and measurably improve the quality of life in our state.”

Wetlands are critically important resources that occupy about 36 percent of Delaware’s land surface. They provide a multitude of services; wetlands help purify and replenish groundwater, mitigate the impacts of floods and buffer waves and other storm effects. They help reduce erosion, improve water quality and act a “sponges” to trap and retain excess nutrients and sediment. Almost every part of our state is within one mile of a wetland – providing irreplaceable services for our health and well-being.

“Wetland loss leads to increased flooding – putting our lives and properties at risk,” said Amy Jacobs, wetland scientist with DNREC’s Watershed Assessment Section. “Wetlands store water and then slowly release it into our surface and groundwater.

When wetlands are degraded or destroyed, water can no longer be stored and is diverted to other areas – which can lead to flooding.”

Over the centuries, Delaware’s wetlands have suffered from human interventions. Since Delaware was settled, nearly 54 percent of our original wetlands have been lost.

Mark Biddle, scientist with DNREC’s Watershed Assessment Section, presented the preliminary findings from the Delaware Wetland Status and Trends report – the culmination of years of work by scientists to sample and survey wetlands and analyze the data from 1992 through 2007.

“Our study found that a total of 2,647 acres of wetlands were lost in Sussex County over the past 15 years. This is significant considering that in the 10-year period ending in 1992, the total statewide wetland loss was 1,990 acres,” said Biddle. “We used past data and compared it to current aerial photos and wetland maps and found that wetland loss has accelerated – primarily due to increases in residential and commercial development and agriculture activities. Our report found that most of the loss has occurred in headwater forests and in and around our resort areas where large amounts of new development have taken place in recent years.”

Over the past several years, thousands of acres of wetlands have been restored and created in Delaware – on large tidal marshes, local school grounds, the backyards of private landowners, marginal agricultural fields and along tax ditches.

The Northern Delaware Wetland Rehabilitation program has restored 8 wetland sites – more than 2,000 acres – and has the goal to restore up to 10,000 acres of degraded urban freshwater and tidal wetlands along the Christina and lower Delaware corridor. In Sussex County, the newly enhanced Slough’s Gut Marsh near Bethany Beach was unveiled last June – a project that transformed 24 acres of eroded and degraded marsh into a productive, healthy ecosystem by removing old mosquito control ditches and creating mudflats, ponds and tidal channels that provide feeding areas for wading birds and habitat for fish, crabs and other invertebrates.

Scientists and partners are working with private landowners, providing technical assistance in developing habitat projects, securing financial assistance and informing landowners about available programs. The Webber Farm in Kent County received funds from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to create a wetland that improved the farm’s water management and reduced nutrients from washing downstream.

“We are now focusing our restoration and protection efforts within a watershed context,” continued Jacobs. “This approach maximizes the benefits to everyone in the watershed, including people living downstream by improving water quality and reducing flooding.”

One of the most valuable tools, the Delaware Wetlands Conservation Strategy, adopted in 2008, has proven to be effective to guide and coordinate efforts and maximize resources. Through the strategy, work is underway to bolster support and protection for a portion of freshwater wetlands that are not covered by state or federal legislation.

The Delaware Wetland Status and Trends report, including the results and wetland maps for New Castle and Kent counties, will be released this summer. For more information on Delaware’s programs that restore and protect wetlands, visit DNREC’s website at

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