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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.

Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance
Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance The Proposition

  • The ecological, economic and social value wetlands is tremendous.
  • Many wetlands ecosystems have undergone significant degradation with negative impacts on biological diversity and peoples' livelihoods.
  • Ecological regeneration provides enhanced biodiversity outcomes as well as improves human well-being in degraded landscapes.
  • Ecological regeneration can revive the remarkable plumbing systems and biodiversity sanctuaries that nature once provided.
  • The effectiveness of mitigation efforts should become an important part of community planning efforts and protecting existing wetlands should become a top priority.

  • Wetlands also offer unsurpassed educational, scientific and recreational opportunities. Because of their abundant wildlife, wetlands have traditionally been heavily used for fishing, hunting, and trapping. Increasingly, wetlands are being used for non-consumptive recreation, such as bird watching, photography, canoeing and hiking. Wetlands near communities provide students with outdoor classrooms that teem with biological activity. The complex ecosystems found in wetlands provide scientists with the opportunity for research that will increase our understanding of hydrology and complex ecological processes.

    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 Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance The
    Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance

    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.

    Please contact:
    Robert MacDonald, Director
    1473 Ethel Street
    Kelowna BC V1Y 2X9
    Telephone: 250.870.2690
    Email: click here

    The Partners in the Wetlands Alliance are
  • Okanagan Basin Water Board
  • District of Lake Country: James Baker, Mayor
  • Okanagan Greens: Angela Reid, President
  • Okanagan Institute: Robert MacDonald, Director
  • Okanagan College: Douglas MacLeod, Associate Dean, Science and Technology
  • Community Futures of the Central Okanagan: Larry Widmer, Director
  • Summerhill Organics and Wildcraft: Gabe Cipes, President
  • Okanagan Nation: Chad Eneas, En'owkin Centre
  • Okanagan Network for the Environment: Deb Thorneycroft, Coordinator
  • Aspire Media Works: Geoff Millar, President

    The Alliance welcomes participation from members of the public, as well as from companies, organizations and institutions of all kinds.
  • Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance
    Okanagan Wetlands Regeneration Alliance

    Published under a Creative Commons copyright. Created, designed and hosted by the Okanagan Institute.