|The Discovery |
of Wet Lands
Report to the Community
The Value of the Wetlands
Wetlands are highly valuable to both the natural world and to society. They are one of the three most important life support systems on Earth, along with agricultural lands and forests. Yet wetlands have been converted to other uses at an astonishing rate. Approximately 50% of all the wetlands on earth have already been lost. In the Okanagan, we have lost two thirds or more of our original wetlands.
Because they are saturated with water, a substance essential to all living things, and because they form a transition zone between land and water, wetlands are among the most biologically diverse and productive places on earth. They filter pollutants and sediments out of the waters of our lakes, rivers and streams. They act as water purifiers for entire watersheds, filtering sediments and pollutants out of the water that goes into our streams and lakes. Wetlands trap nutrients and sediment in runoff, protecting downstream watercourses from algal blooms and fish-threatening sedimentation. They also can retain heavy metals and detoxify chemicals and pathogens. Wetlands are such effective water purifiers that they are now used in the tertiary treatment of industrial and municipal waste water.
Wetlands control flood damage and prevent soil erosion. Wetlands along watercourses and water bodies absorb and hold floodwaters, protecting banks and adjacent lands from serious damage. They also ease droughts. During wet seasons wetlands act like giant sponges, soaking up excess rain, snow and surface waters then in drier seasons, wetlands provide wildlife with drinking holes, and slowly release their stored waters into aquifers and streams. Many community water supplies rely upon wetlands for water recharge. They also take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. By absorbing carbon, wetlands form "carbon sinks" that are important in the control of global warming trends.
In dollar terms alone, Environment Canada has estimated that the economic value of the functions performed by Canada's wetlands is almost $10 billion annually including $2.7 billion for floodwater control, $1.35 billion for water purification, and over $4 billion for recreation, fishing and hunting. Cost-benefit studies have valued the functions of wetlands at $100,000 per acre and more.
The problem is that modern markets fail to recognize and take into
account the full value of wetlands. By failing to compensate a wetland owner for what
the wetland produces, and simultaneously failing to charge the owner for the true
cost of destroying a wetland, the market makes it attractive to turn wetlands into
subdivisions and cropland. The subdivision or farm may have a far lower value to
society than the original wetland but the true comparative values have not been
reflected in the marketplace. It is a classic case of "market failure". Going forward, we
must better reflect the full economic, social and environmental values of wetlands
and create economic incentives that encourage landowners to maintain them.
Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance
is a group of progressive citizens, groups, companies, institutions, organizations and communities who want to put nature back into the centre of Okanagan life.
The Alliance was formed to apply the principals of ecology to the wetlands of the Okanagan Basin, which are the source and heart of the future of human habitation and economy of this area, and which are in continuous need of study, understanding and regeneration.
Robert MacDonald, Director
1473 Ethel Street
Kelowna BC V1Y 2X9
Email: click here
The Partners in the Wetlands Alliance are
The Alliance welcomes participation from members of the public, as well as from companies, organizations and institutions of all kinds.