Health of area's wetlands get a mixed report


The health of the flat wetlands in Sussex County have been graded at a fair B+, but the health of the area’s riverine wetlands and tidal wetlands came in at a less-than-satisfactory D and D+, respectively, according to a new report card on the health of the state’s wetlands.

Center for the Inland Bays staff heard from Amy Jacobs of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on Friday, Dec. 18, and Jacobs presented the board with a slideshow compiling five years of data in from the inland bays: “The Wetlands of the Inland Bays Watershed: Current Condition and Call to Action to Improve the Resource.”

Jacobs explained that this is the first time a compilation of this kind of data has been put together – not just for Delaware, but across the country.

Wetlands are important, she noted, because proper management can mean less flood damage, more removal of pollutants, filtering of what becomes drinking water, prevention of erosion and a place for wildlife habitats. They can also store large amounts of carbon and, when they become degraded, greenhouse gases can be released into the atmosphere.

Jacobs’ main points were that the inland bays watershed has lost approximately 60 percent of its wetland resources since European settlement. According to the wetland health report card, most of the latest degradation has been from development and conversion of wetlands to development, farm fields and ponds.

“No. 1, we can’t afford to lose any more, and, two, it would be nice to expand on some of the larger ones,” said Jacobs.

She said common stressors for the wetlands can include invasive plant species, roads, forest harvesting, development and ditching.

She said that, because a large percentage of inland bay watershed wetlands are on private property, the voluntary restoration programs can help landowners, as well as reconnecting streams with adjacent riverine wetlands and protecting the current wetlands.

DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara commented that, in addition to the environmental degradation the loss of wetlands poses, the economic factors are just as significant.

“The economic choices we are setting up for ourselves are catastrophic,” said O’Mara. “When people talk about the economy, this is the economy. Restoration work is cents on the dollar compared to the alternatives.”

For more information on the report, or to view it in its entirety, visit www.inlandbays.org. online

In other Center for the Inland Bays news, O’Mara reported that there is “a lot going on.” He said DNREC is working closely to resolve some issues concerning the erosion of the dunes and flooding. He said they are finalizing the NRG permits for improvements to existing generating facilities.

Regarding fly ash, said that he has reached out to his counterparts and recently met with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson. He noted that the EPA does not have a consensus yet, internally, regarding fly ash. There had been talk about the EPA changing the classification of fly ash from a sold waste to a hazardous waste.

CAC Secretary and board member Ron Wuslich said he had recently been talking to an old friend and that some other area generating stations were trucking their fly ash to mines in Western Maryland, as well as using double-pass-through cooling intake technology. “There is more science out there,” he added.

O’Mara said that one of the big challenges comes if the watershed is simply moving pollution from one form to another, rather than trying to reduce the number of pollutants. He also said they are re-organizing some parts of the department and trying to not “solve one problem while creating another one.”

Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee mentioned that he would be wiling to get names and numbers of farmers for the Citizen Advisory Committee, to better improve their membership diversity – a subject that took up most of the first part of the meeting.

“I can name 10 people to serve on CAC. I’ll give you a list of 10 of them.”

He also reported that 14,000 tons (28 million pounds) of poultry manure have been moved out of Delaware and out of the region.

Dr. Bill McGowan of the Sussex Conservation District reported that 11,000 acres of cover crops have been planted, up 2,900 acres from last year. He reported that, although cover crop planting was down county-wide, it is up in the inland bays watershed.

Bill Ambrogio of the EPA reported that Shaun Garbin, the former Delaware liaison to the EPA, is the new regional administrator for the EPA. He also reported that much of his workload now consists of implementing total daily maximum loads (TMDLs) throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Dr. Kathy Bunting-Howarth of DNREC’s Division of Water Resources reported that since the baseline of 2005, 2,219 septic systems have been removed from the watershed.

For more information on the Center for the Inland Bays, visit inlandbays.org.