Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | July 22, 2008

Wetlands restoration is highly important to our ecosystem and may help save the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.

You have probably read my past posts about U.S. EPA awarding money to restore wetlands in Louisiana. Perhaps you are rubbing your head and wondering why the federal regulatory agency would spend millions of dollars restoring wetlands in Louisiana.

Keep in mind that the Mississippi River drains the runoff of the eastern half of the United States into the Gulf of Mexico. Think of how much fertilizer and other chemicals drain into the rivers and streams that feed into the Mississippi River. The nitrogen-containing fertilizers and the great algae blooms that they cause are killing a large area of the Gulf of Mexico. If EPA and Louisiana can restored and expanded the wetland areas in Louisiana, perhaps they can slow down the unwanted microbial plague invading and killing the Gulf of Mexico.

In short, wetland ecosystems are fundamentally important features of our landscape because they improve water quality, serve as nursery and feeding areas for fish, birds and other wildlife, and dampen the energy of flood events. Wetlands remove nutrients from surface and ground water by filtering and by converting nutrients to unavailable forms.

Denitrification is arguably the most important of these reactions because humans have increased nitrate worldwide by applying fertilizers. Increased nitrate availability can cause eutrophication, but denitrification converts biologically available nitrogen back into nitrogen gas, which is biologically unavailable except to nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Denitrification is a biological process that may ultimately produce molecular nitrogen through a series of intermediate steps. Simply said, bacteria and other microbes found in wetlands break down complex nitrogen compounds into smaller nitrogen compounds. These intermediate steps generate gaseous nitrogen oxide products, including methane. Denitrification can be detected in many soils, but denitrification is fastest in wetlands soils.

Wetlands are also important in the global carbon cycle because they hold about 1/3 of the world’s soil carbon and release 40% of all methane (a powerful greenhouse gas).

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