Ducks Unlimited Canada Completes First Year of Phosphorus Research in the Lake Erie Watershed
Barrie, Ont.—Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is wrapping up the first year of a proposed three-year study in the Lake Erie watershed.
Research at recently restored wetland basins will assess their efficiency in removing phosphorus from surface-water runoff to better inform conservation decisions that improve water quality.
The evolution of best management practices has helped retain nutrients—used as fertilizer, for example—on the land but large rainfalls and snow melts continue to wash phosphorus into rivers and lakes. The excess nutrients can support rapidly growing cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which thrive in a warm and nutrient-rich environment. Resulting toxins in the water can be highly dangerous for wildlife, pets and people.
DUC has been hard at work in the Lake Erie watershed for several years collaborating with the federal and Ontario governments, conservation agencies and private landowners to harness the power of wetlands to capture nutrients from the surrounding landscape. Support was also provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a continental program for habitat conservation.
More than 100 wetlands have been constructed or restored in the watershed. There is so much interest from private landowners in restoring wetlands that there is now a project waiting list.
The role of wetlands in protecting lakes from algae
The purpose of the study is to assess the phosphorus removal efficiency of these small, restored wetlands. Led by research scientists at DUC’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, the study will quantify how much phosphorus is captured in eight restored wetlands and if there is any potential to improve the wetlands’ performance. This research could not happen without the generosity of the private landowners who agreed to be part of the project. To date, the study has received funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry.
Restored wetlands provide habitat for waterfowl and many other benefits to the landscape. Today, we see a need for better understanding of benefits that extend beyond habitat for wildlife as we look to wetlands to help improve surface-water quality in southern Ontario.
This study will help guide wetland restoration design and the strategic placement of restorations within watersheds. Wetlands remove nutrients from surface water by storing them in the basin sediments or using them to grow vibrant aquatic vegetation. Many factors can influence a specific wetland basin’s ability to retain phosphorus, including the age and size of the wetland, microbial and vegetation communities, and upstream drainage which moves water swiftly into the wetland.
The better we understand the role of wetlands, the better we can choose conservation actions that best protect the health of watersheds—and ultimately, the Great Lakes at the end of the line.
“Our science moves with the times,” says Owen Steele, DUC’s head of conservation in Ontario. “Today’s big questions in the Lake Erie watershed centre around finding the conservation actions that will protect the rivers and lakes that we all enjoy from excess algal growth.”
DUC is seeking funding to continue this research for a second year and has placed the project on hold as of October 1, 2019.
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Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) delivers wetland conservation that benefits every Canadian. We keep the water in your lakes and rivers clean. We protect your community from the effects of flood and drought. We save wildlife and special natural places. We use science to find solutions to the most important environmental issues of the day and we collaborate with people who are helping create a healthier world. The wetlands we save aren’t just for ducks; they’re for all of us.
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