U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- About 1.5 percent of the State of Colorado is covered by wetlands, which are not only a source of habitat for waterfowl but also are of significant benefit to the state's water resources by providing flood and erosion control and helping to naturally clean up and filter out contaminants, according to the most recent National Water Summary report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The report, the eighth and final in a series, provides a state-by-state overview of wetland resources that shows the type and distribution of wetlands, trends on wetland losses and gains, and conservation efforts in each state. "The 103 million acres of wetlands remaining in the United States are not only a source of critical habitat for waterfowl, but they also reduce the severity of floods and erosion by modifying the flow of water and improve water quality by filtering out contaminants," said Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior, in releasing the report.
The USGS wetlands report provides overviews of wetland protection legislation, research by Federal agencies related to wetlands, a discussion of the functions and values of wetlands, as well as an historic look at gains and losses of wetlands across the Nation since the time of European settlement.
The report, was prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a sister bureau in the Interior Department, and the former National Biological Service, which became the Biological Resources Division of the USGS on October 1, 1996.
Wetlands occupy about 1 million acres of Colorado. Types of wetlands in the state include forested, scrub-shrub, bottomland shrublands, marshes, fens, and alpine snow glades, among others.
Over the last two centuries, wetland acreage in Colorado has been reduced by about one-half. Major causes of wetland loss or alteration are conversion to cropland, dewatering for irrigation purposes, overgrazing by livestock, encroachment by residential and commercial development, channelization, dewatering for municipal and industrial purposes, and contamination from inadequately treated sewage and industrial waste. Other causes are ski resort development, transmountain water diversions, drainage, burning, clear cutting, mining and related activities, erosion and sedimentation, and construction of dams, reservoirs, roads, and railroads.
Even as wetland area continues to decrease in Colorado, some new wetland areas have resulted from irrigation and changes in land-use practices, principally in the San Luis Valley and near Boulder.
Agencies that have responsibility for wetlands in Colorado include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, agencies of the Department of the Interior, State agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife, some county and local government entities, and various private organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy. The USGS National Water Summary report on Wetland Resources provides a table in each State section on the activities and responsibilities of various government agencies and private organizations related to wetlands.
Highlights from the Colorado wetland resources summary include descriptions of the value of wetlands to the State. Wetlands provide important wildlife habitat. One of the best-known functions of wetlands is to provide habitat for birds. Many species of birds depend on wetlands almost totally for breeding, nesting, feeding, or shelter during breeding cycles and are therefore called "wetland dependent." Wetlands also provide for flood attenuation, bank stabilization, and water-quality improvement. Colorado's tourist industry benefits from the scenic beauty of wetlands and from the recreational opportunities they afford residents and out-of-state visitors, according to the USGS.
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