Georgia Wetlands are ‘Shelter from the Storm’

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Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

Macon, GA – Enough wetlands remain in the flood-prone areas of Georgia to hold enough rain to cover Macon in nearly three feet of water, according to a new report by Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center.

The analysis, Shelter from the Storm: How Wetlands Protect Our Communities from Flooding, says the area’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.

“Our wetlands are nature’s first line of defense against storms and flooding,” said Marlaina Maddux, campaign organizer with Environment Georgia. “We need to protect what’s left of them.”

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past 30 years. In Georgia, In late September 2009, a six-day extreme rainstorm dropped as much as 20 inches of rain in northern Georgia, causing flooding so severe that 17 Georgia counties were declared federal disaster areas and at least 10 people died.

“Wetlands provide numerous economic benefits, from protecting property from flooding to filtering pollution to serving as a nursery for much of our seafood,” said Gil Rogers of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Without them, Georgia’s ability to withstand flooding is diminished. The push for protecting our wetlands is a push to protect Georgia.”

As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, leading to higher levels of precipitation during rain and snowstorms. At the start of this decade, storms were already producing 6 percent more precipitation in Georgia than they did in the 1970’s.

A loophole in the nation’s Clean Water Act leaves the state’s smaller streams and 20 million acres of wetlands across the country without guaranteed protection under the law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed restoring the safeguards with a rule expected to be finalized as early as next month.

The restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and local officials, including Congressman Hank Johnson. Developers and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them in the U.S. Congress, however.

 “Wetlands give us shelter from the storm, so the law should shelter wetlands from development and pollution,” said Maddux. “We applaud our Congressman Hank Johnson for standing up to the polluters and championing protections for all our streams and wetlands, and we look to other Georgia lawmakers to follow in his steps.”