Wetlands – where land and water meet and mingle – are one of the most precious spots in nature. Wetlands act as sponges, reducing pollution, flooding and flood damage. When there is too much water, they absorb it; when there is too little, they slowly release it back into streams or groundwater. Wetlands also provide a home to many types of unique plant and animal life.
Historically, Kentucky had 1.5 million acres of wetlands. At last count, we had approximately 324,000 acres left–a loss of more than 81%. To protect what’s left, the US Army Corps of Engineers has set a goal of “No Net Loss” for valuable wetlands across the United States. In plain English, that means if a developer, farmer, or company wants to dredge or fill a wetland, it must create, restore, or protect a wetland somewhere else. To ensure this actually happens, individuals or companies have to apply for and receive a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers #404 Permit, and a Kentucky Division of Water #401 Water Quality Certification.
On paper, that’s a big win for wetlands everywhere. In practice, though, no one is keeping track or minding the store! The last count of wetlands acres was in 1994, and no one is charged with keeping track long-term of whether any of the wetlands that have been constructed to “replace” natural wetlands are still in the landscape or still functioning as healthy wetlands. KWA does the important work of keeping tabs on developers, industry, and even government so that they keep their promises.
KWA reviews public noticed 404 permit applications and 401 WQC applications, make sure wetlands are protected as much as possible, and if impacts are necessary, we make sure that mitigation is sufficient to fully account for the impacts. We also keep close watch on where new wetlands are to be built to replace filled natural ones, ensure that they are indeed built, and verify that they are actually working later down the road.
But we can’t catch everything. Sometimes, wetlands are impacted with no permit, or mitigation sites are not kept up with, and we just don’t catch it. That’s where, we hope, our members and all keen Kentuckians come in to play. If you see an area that looks like a wetland, and there’s construction going on around it (or in it) let us know!