The Science of Sustainability

Restoring the Earth's "Kidneys"

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Anthony Titus, from Richmond Heights, Ohio, plants native grasses during an EPA-funded wetland restoration project.

Anthony Titus, from Richmond Heights, Ohio, plants native grasses during an EPA-funded wetland restoration project.

Think of a wetland like a kidney.  Just as kidneys filter blood in the body, wetlands filter pollutants out of waterways.

This is an especially important task in some urban areas, where big storm events can overwhelm the sewers and cause an overflow into nearby creeks and streams.

According to a 2009 Fish and Wildlife report, wetlands along eastern coastal areas, like the Great Lakes, are disappearing at a rapid clip, with yearly losses of nearly 60,000 acres. But projects are underway to restore some of these wetlands, including one federally-funded effort in Cleveland, Ohio.

QUEST Ohio’s Anne Glausser reports:

 

Volunteers lend a hand to stabilize the streambank and  restore Euclid Creek's damaged wetlands.

Volunteers lend a hand to stabilize the streambank and restore Euclid Creek's damaged wetlands.

TRANSCRIPT:

It’s planting day at Euclid Creek, near the Wildwood Marina in Cleveland.

GLAUSSER: What a beautiful day. POSIUS: I know, I know, we’re so lucky.

I’m with Claire Posius of the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District who spearheads the wetland restoration project underway here.

We’re standing at a ledge overlooking the creek and thinking about how best to get down there.

I realize – too late – that I’m not wearing the right shoes.

POSIUS: It’s a little treacherous getting down so I’m trying to figure out…so you don’t mind going through the creek? Or we can walk all the way around? GLAUSSER: No, let’s go through, I’m fine, I’ll…these shoes need to be washed a little anyway.

(Sound of wading through creek)

We wade through a newly-restored creek bed near where the stream meets Lake Erie.

This whole area used to be an island, gnarled with invasive Japanese Knotweed.

POSIUS: It looked like a jungle.

The island came about because of the nearby marina.

During its development in the 30s, they needed somewhere to put all the dredged earth—so they dumped it into the creek and surrounding wetlands.

This created flooding problems upstream, so in the 80s the Army Corps came in and made a relief channel for the water.

It was a quick fix that solved the flooding problem.

But it just channeled the water directly into Lake Erie, and did nothing to restore the wetland and its wildlife habitat.

Now, says Posius, they’ve bulldozed the island, restored the wetland, and returned the creek to its natural, meandering state.

POSIUS: We’re just, we’re recreating what was here.

Northeast Ohio was once almost 90% wetland, but now only patches remain.

According to a 2009 Fish and Wildlife report, wetlands along eastern coastal areas, like the Great Lakes, are disappearing at a rapid clip, with yearly losses of nearly 60,000 acres.

POSIUS: It’s so rare that we find them now, that we haven’t developed on them.

This is a problem, says Posius.

POSIUS: They are like the kidney of our natural systems.

Wetlands filter pollutants from urban runoff, such as what comes from the pipe upstream from this creek mouth.

POSIUS: When we have these big storm events, the system becomes overburdened and then unfortunately our sanitary sewer and the stormwater combine in the same pipe and then come into the creeks and streams, unfortunately.

Now with the wetland restored, that natural filter is back in place.

Wetlands are also prime real-estate for biodiversity.

GLAUSSER: Why do fish like wetlands, and little puddles and crannies? POSIUS: Well there’s lots of habitat here. So before, the island was about 6’ above the water level so the fish couldn’t get up to the habitat. And what we’ve done also is remove all the invasive plants that’s crowded out all the natives and diversity, and we’re planting hundreds of different species that are native to wetlands.

She says they’ve attracted ducks, herons, creek chubs…even a toothy resident:

POSIUS: We’ve got a beaver that’s the size of a yellow lab…

Euclid Creek is pretty unusual to get this kind of attention.

Wetland restoration doesn’t come cheap.

This project was backed by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program that’s funded nearly a billion dollars in cleanup projects since 2010.

TITUS: Oh well, this one just crumbled. I don’t know how…(voice in the background: You can still plant it). Still plant it?

Anthony Titus is a sophomore at Richmond Heights and has an armful of native grasses.

He’s one of thirty or so volunteers who have turned out on this sunny Saturday to help plant.

Another is Pasa Barnett, who lives nearby and came out with his family.

BARNETT: We hadn’t been here probably in a year and we were just amazed at the transformation that had taken place.

Barnett’s managed to keep his shoes pretty clean—unlike me—but his hands are definitely dirty.

BARNETT: It’s just, it’s nice to be a part of this.

Anne Glausser, 90.3

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Category: Environment, Radio, Water

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Anne Glausser

About the Author ()

Anne Glausser is the Coordinating Producer for QUEST Ohio. Before taking on this role, she was WCPN 90.3 FM & WVIZ/PBS ideastream’s health reporter and produced award-winning radio pieces. She’s spent time on both coasts (her college mascot was the banana slug!), but grew up in the Midwest and is happy to be back home. She got started in radio at PRI’s Living on Earth, and has also spent time as a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. Anne got her SM from MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.