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Hydrologic Restoration and Vegetative Planting (BA-34-2)

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Problems:
The Lac des Allemands River Basin Initiative identified the following specific problems within the Lac des Allemands Watershed: drainage impairments; water quality impairments; loss of marsh; and decline of cypress forest. Many years of study by Louisiana State University researchers in these swamps have demonstrated that, because of impoundment, subsidence, and inadequate accretion of sediments and organic matter, some areas are already highly stressed and converting to open water, floating aquatic plants, and fresh marsh. Also, the Coast 2050 report suggests that other areas of the swamps throughout the basin will likely convert to open water or floating marsh by the year 2050. These problems are caused by the loss of river water along with the associated sediment and nutrients necessary for swamp health. The loss of river water can be attributed to the leveeing of the Mississippi River. Impoundment caused by roads, drainage canals, and spoil banks is also a major cause of degradation of these swamps.
Restoration Strategy:

The original proposed restoration strategy included installing two small siphons (averaging 400 cubic feet per second) to divert water from the Mississippi River; gapping spoil banks on Bayou Chevreuil; gapping spoil banks along the borrow beside Louisiana Highway 20; installing culverts under Louisiana Highway 20; improving drainage in impounded swamps; and planting cypress and tupelo seedlings in highly degraded swamp areas.

The proposed diversion from the Mississippi River was to bring fresh water, fine-grained sediments, and nutrients into the upper des Allemands swamps, which would have helped maintain swamp elevation, improve swamp water quality, and increase productivity and regrowth of young trees as older trees die. However, after hydrologic modeling and more detailed engineering/design and cost estimation, it was determined that the siphon would cost far more than originally anticipated. For that reason, the CWPPRA Task Force approved the project sponsors’ request to re-scope the project to eliminate the siphon feature, and to focus on the remaining project features.

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Location: The project is located West of Lac des Allemands in St. James Parish, Louisiana, south of the town of South Vacherie, bordered on the south by Bayou Chevreuil, and on the east by LA Highway 20.

Progress to Date: The Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force approved Phase 1 funding in January 2001. In June 2013, the Task Force approved a request to change the scope of the project to eliminate a siphon feature and focus on the remaining original hydrologic restoration and vegetative planting project features. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority performed the engineering and design services. Design was completed in October 2015 and Phase 2 funds for construction was approved by the Task Force in January 2016. Construction activities for excavation and placement began in October 2017 and ended on December 20, 2017, vegetative plantings occurred in late January, and officially completed on February 2, 2018.

The three (3) principal project features included:

1. Eight (8), 400-foot-long, strategically designed gaps were cut in the northern Bayou Chevreuil spoil bank to reverse the effects of impoundment;

2. Sixteen (16) spoil placement areas were created on each side of the channel banks; (1 placement area on both sides of each gap) to beneficially use the dredged material on site;

3. Seven hundred (700) Bald Cypress and one hundred (100) Water Tupelo saplings were planted in the constructed spoil placement areas to start swamp regeneration and swamp productivity.

This project enhanced 2,395 acres of swamp habitat that would have continued to degrade without the project.

This project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 10.

The sponsors include:

Federal Sponsor: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Local Sponsor: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)

 

 

Featured

Classifying Wetlands Part 2

Last week’s Wetland Wednesday mentioned 3 main criteria as part of identifying a wetland (wetland hydrology, hydrophytic vegetation, and hydric soils). – Today we’ll look at how plants and soils help scientists delineate wetlands.

In the field, scientists identify and sample soils and plants as part of wetland delineation. The LSU AgCenter groups plant species based on where the plant is naturally found as seen in the table below.

indicator_2Wetland plants have adapted to flooded soils. “Obligate” plants can tolerate water at high levels or when soil saturation is a normal condition to that area. Examples of these plants include the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), or cattail (Typha latifolia) [3].

In contrast, plants that cannot handle flooded conditions for an extended period would naturally be in the “upland” area of land (i.e. winged sumac (Rhus copallina), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), or panic grass (Dichanthelium sp.) [3].

People delineating wetlands focus on a project area according to aerial and soil maps along with aerial photographs [1]. Delineators then take soil samples and determine characteristics seen in hydric soils which relate to cycles of flooding and drying. – Examples of those include oxidized soils, hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell) and organic bodies found on plant roots. Finally, the plant and soil types are compared, tested, then matched to determine wetland boundaries for mapping and policy purposes [1].

Wetland delineation is a tool for protecting and documenting these important landscapes which contribute to a healthy and functional environment. It is important to note that wetland delineation requires much more than just plant and soil identification. CWPPRA utilizes sound science, engineering, mapping, and geo-technical surveys in the process of planning, approving, constructing, and maintaining coastal Louisiana wetland restoration projects.

Sources:

[1] Bedhun, Rebecca. 2018. “Watch and Lean Now: How To Do A Wetland Delineation”. Shoret Elliot Hendrickson Inc. Available: http://www.sehinc.com/news/watch-and-learn-now-how-do-wetland-delineation [September 9, 2018]

[2] Jon Kusler. “Common Questions: Wetland Definition, Delineation, and Mapping”. Association of State Wetland Managers, Inc. Available: https://www.aswm.org/pdf_lib/14_mapping_6_26_06.pdf [September 9, 2018]

[3] LSU Ag Center. 2018. Louisiana Plant Identification: Plant List. Available: http://www.rnr.lsu.edu/plantid/listcommon.htm [September 10, 2018]

 

Featured

Classifying Wetlands Part 1

When we think of wetlands, our mind may paint a picture of a swampy area with open water, and maybe a heron or alligator. Despite common perception, not all wetlands are the same. — These watery features come in all shapes, sizes, and locations along with a unique system of processes and purpose.

Wetlands are diverse and the difference between dry and wet environment lies along a gradient. Therfore, there cannot be one perfect definition to represent what a wetland is. Scientists have developed criteria to identify wetlands and aid in assessment, inventory, and management [1].

Figure 1. An example used by scientists to start the process for wetland delineation.

Criteria Definition
Wetland hydrology the gradient or degree of flooding or soil saturation across a landscape [2].
Hydrophytic vegetation plants adapted to grow in water or in a soil that is occasionally oxygen deficient due to saturation by water [2].
Hydric soils soils that are sufficiently wet in the upper root zone  and may develop anaerobic (oxygen lacking) conditions during the length of at least 1-2 growing seasons [2].

As seen below in Figure 2 and 3; some wetlands are flooded year-round while other  water levels fluctuate. The wetland hydrology differs depending on location and the geography of the landscape.

Figure 2: A simplified example of a wetland water gradient dependent on elevation and tidal ranges.

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Figure 3.

basic_gradientYou may not live close to a coastal marsh, but many water sources eventually connect to a wetland on the coast, making the streams, lakes, and swamps in your backyard an important link to the larger watershed. That’s why it’s important to support, respect, and appreciate the water systems and land of everyday life. CWPPRA projects restore and protect these systems to support the livelihood and cultures of Louisiana and to protect the land we value so dearly.

In next week’s edition of Wetland Wednesday, we’ll look at how scientist use vegetation and soils to classify wetlands!

 

Source:
[1] Fish and Wildlife Service. Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States. Available: https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/documents/Classification-of-Wetlands-and-Deepwater-Habitats-of-the-United-States-2013.pdf [August 27, 2018].
[2] Natural Resources Conservation Service. Hydric Soils Overview. Available: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/use/hydric/?cid=nrcs142p2_053985 [August 27, 2018].
Featured

Hurricanes

This week marks 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, an event some citizens of Louisiana are still recovering from. We may have all heard the name, but do we know what a hurricane is, how wetlands are affected, and how coastal landforms can decrease hurricane impacts?

“Hurricanes” are low-pressure tropical storm systems that differ from other storms in severity as well as location. A hurricane is a storm with winds above 64mph accompanied by heavy rain that originates in either the NE Pacific or the N Atlantic Ocean (the oceans that touch the USA). Due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise, whereas a southern hemisphere storm would rotate clockwise. Hurricanes develop a characteristic “eye of the storm” in the center, which is an area of low pressure and low wind. Just outside of the eye is the most severe weather, the eyewall, with winds reaching up to 210mph in the strongest storms! Hurricane “category” ratings are as follows:

  • Category 1: 74-93mph
  • Category 2: 96-109mph
  • Category 3: 110-129mph
  • Category 4: 130-157mph
  • Category 5: >158mph

Hurricanes develop over areas with warmer waters, typically nearer the equator, and move away from the equator. [1] Coastal Louisiana is hit by hurricanes on an increasingly regular basis, and those hurricanes all develop in the North Atlantic Ocean in late summer and fall. Our “Hurricane Season” occurs from June through November each year. [2] Several aspects of hurricanes pose major threats to our wetlands statewide. High winds can topple trees, rip up shrubs and grasses, and move sediments around. High rainfall can cause flooding in areas that are not well-adapted to high-water conditions. Storm surge can push saline seawater into brackish and freshwater systems. Hurricanes cause massive disturbance in coastal wetlands, but wetlands are a crucial barrier that protects major cities from taking as much damage. CWPPRA works to combat land loss and protect the future of coastal Louisiana.

Some CWPPRA projects restore barrier islands, which are natural defenses that develop in the Deltaic Cycle. Barrier islands lessen storm surge during hurricanes, bearing the brunt of the waves. Sadly, they cannot provide perfect protection because they are degrading, but they are not the last line of defense. We still have coastal marshes that are great at storing water and acting like a speed bump to storm surge. It is estimated that each mile of coastal marsh decreases storm surge by about a foot. Unfortunately, many coastal marshes are decaying into open water and are no longer protective barriers. CWPPRA will continue to restore wetlands and nourish barrier islands to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_cyclone

[2] https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes

Featured image from [1]

Environmental Education

This week is a big one for us in habitat conservation and restoration.  This past Saturday, we celebrated World Wetlands Day and took some time to appreciate the variety and importance of wetlands around us. In case you didn’t see it, we posted on Monday about our Friday spent with students in Houma, LA. This week is also the official start of National Green Week, a set of programs developed by the Green Education Foundation (GEF) in the United States!

Across the country, schools will be offering GEF programs between now and the end of April to foster greater environmental consciousness. Programs that are offered can be found on their website, listed in our “sources” section. Programs consist of 5 days of lessons and associated activities, and they explore multiple topics within themes such as green energy, waste reduction, and sustainable water. Our hope is that schools in our state implement similar lessons. Thanks to programs like National Green Week, we have more citizens who are conscious of human impacts on ecosystems than ever before. In Louisiana, programs like CWPPRA, BTNEP, and CRCL focus on telling the story of coastal land loss and all the potential consequences of letting it happen. Environmental awareness of topics like clean water, energy efficiency, and waste reduction has major benefits to the health of our coastal zone. For more information, feel free to check out our posts about measuring water quality and soil pollution.

The mission of environmental educational programs is to start conversations and lay a solid foundation of knowledge that students can build on. Being introduced to pressing environmental issues at early ages nurtures better stewardship and more productive attitudes when it comes to the challenges of coastal erosion, deforestation, pollution, and other issues. In Louisiana, legislators are already beginning to realize the severity of our disappearing coast and are making changes accordingly. For this, we are extremely fortunate. We are proud to work alongside CPRA and our other partners towards our mutual goal of a resilient Louisiana coastline, and we look forward to the younger generations adopting this mission.

 

Sources:

https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/greenweek.html

Featured Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Lake_(Lafayette,_Louisiana)

World Wetlands Day Outreach Event

Getting out and working with students is one of our favorite things to do in the public outreach office, so we are so glad we were hosted by the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center this past Friday, February 1, for World Wetlands Day. Located in downtown Houma, Louisiana, the SLWDC has a beautifully curated wetlands museum exhibit as well as warm and friendly staff. The event was mostly open to Houma area schoolchildren ranging from 3rd to 7th grade with a short period at the end during which the public could participate. Students cycled through and engaged with 7 tables that each had a different focus.

Going around the room, Restore or Retreat taught about coastal erosion with a small model of a barrier island’s sandy beach, then the USDA Agricultural Research Service had students match seeds to pictures of their parent plants. The next table was our host, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, with a presentation about invasive species. They brought their resident nutria, Beignet, as an example. Next, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Wildlife Hospital brought two hawks and a screech owl, all of whom are residents at their school due to injuries. T Baker Smith demonstrated some restoration techniques like shoreline protection, vegetative planting, and marsh creation. After those techniques, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) presented how it is important to treat wastewater and how wetlands act as filters, and BTNEP shared a few examples of animals with shells. We brought a game that uses bean bag animals to teach about how some species are confined to a specific habitat, but some animals can use more than one habitat.

The celebration started in response to the Feb 2, 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, which is an international treaty to recognize wetlands as vitally important ecosystems. [1] On this day, organizations worldwide share a mutual goal to raise awareness and spread appreciation for wetlands near them. We appreciate the opportunity to get out and interact with students and we are proud to have worked with so many other enthusiastic and educational groups. Many thanks to our hosts, visitors, and colleagues- we appreciate all of the work you do to #ProtectOurCoast.

 

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LSU Veterinary School Students taught about wildlife rehabilitation with amputee birds of prey.
Beignet
Beignet, the resident nutria, cannot cause massive marsh damage from his little cage, but he can tear up some carrots.

 

[1] https://www.ramsar.org/about-the-ramsar-convention

Regional Planning Teams

This week, CWPPRA was scheduled to hear proposals for potential projects that will compete for funding in the upcoming fiscal year. FY19 is bound to have some fierce competitors, including some projects that may not have been awarded funding in previous years. In our Dec 12, 2018 post, we outlined a bit of the project selection process and we hope to see new and innovative ideas soon. At this time, the Regional Planning Team (RPT) meetings have been postponed following the government shutdown.

To reiterate the RPT process from the December 12th post, new projects are proposed annually across the coast. If any of our readers wish to propose a project this year, watch our newsflash for rescheduled meeting times in your region. Project proposals guidelines can be found on our Newsflash announcement. After each RPT meeting, the projects from each of CWPPRA’s 4 regions are compiled by RPT members and submitted to the next phase of competition. Each Parish and CWPPRA personnel submit a ranking of important projects, which helps the Technical Committee narrow down the list to 10 of the most promising projects. These 10 projects are further evaluated by CWPPRA working groups to look at environmental impact, engineering concepts, and other important aspects of each proposal, then the Technical Committee selects 4 to recommend to the Task Force for Phase I Engineering & Design.

In December 2018, the CWPPRA Technical Committee narrowed 10 potential Phase I projects down to 4 and the list for Phase II approval to 2 projects. The Task Force was scheduled to meet January 24th, 2019 to approve the recommended projects but, since the federal government was still partially closed, some of the critical task force representatives were unable to meet that day and so that meeting will be replaced with an electronic vote.

This latest government shutdown may have thrown a wrench into the CWPPRA process, our commitment to the coast is as strong as ever. We will continue to hear proposals, select projects, and work with our partners to construct projects that support the state of our coastline and all who live there. Watch for our Newsflash if you want to participate in our Project selection process; we look forward to helping you #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2016/05/03/science/isle-de-jean-charles-resettlement-plan.html

Plankton

We talk a lot about the health of marine life in terms of fish, oysters, crabs, and other large organisms that we can observe with the naked eye, but we often look past the microorganisms that, in some cases, can be better indicators of water quality, productivity, and overall ecosystem health. [1] The microorganisms in question often fall under the umbrella term of “plankton”. Directly translated from Greek, the root word “planktos” means wandering and describes how these organisms move through ecosystems. There are many varieties of plankton, including producers (phytoplankton) and predators (zooplankton).

One key characteristic that all plankton share is that they do not move very far on their own; they rely on currents and other movement in the water column for most of their migration. While some planktonic organisms can move with a flagellum (tail made of proteins), most of the movement for all plankton comes from external forces. [2] Currents and mixing often occur in the pelagic (uppermost open water) layer because of wind, temperature variation, and a variety of other factors. Phytoplankton thrive in the shallower layers of the pelagic zone where abundant sunlight and gas exchange are available. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide at the surface allow phytoplankton to photosynthesize, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and giving off the oxygen we breathe. Phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen in our atmosphere by some estimates, which makes them just as important as our rainforests and other terrestrial ecosystems. [3]

Plankton do not all fit into one taxonomic group; there are plankton from each kingdom. [4] Our coastal waters contain species from each, including microcrustaceans like copepods, bacteria like blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and juvenile life stages of larger animals like oysters and fish. Jellyfish in their most recognizable form, the medusa, are technically plankton, too: they have no locomotion so they just drift. As easy, plentiful prey, plankton often form the base of marine food webs. Unfortunately, having too many phytoplankton is a very real, very dangerous issue in coastal Louisiana where excess nutrients coming down our waterways provide lots of food for phytoplankton. An overgrowth of phytoplankton can cause an algal bloom [5] and associated hypoxic or dead zone. See our post ‘Stress pt. II: Flooding and Hypoxia’ for more information on how too many producers can decrease the amount of oxygen.

CWPPRA projects help to decrease the area of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone by restoring wetlands. The more wetlands we have in our Mississippi river watershed, the more filtration of excess nutrients we have. Filtration is a major benefit of wetlands and can prevent phytoplankton from accessing these excess nutrients. Hopefully one day nutrient filtration and other pollution reducing practices will allow the gulf to return to its former glory.

 

[1] https://academic.oup.com/plankt/article/36/3/621/1503238

[2] http://www.biologyreference.com/Ph-Po/Plankton.html

[3] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/source-of-half-earth-s-oxygen-gets-little-credit/

[4] http://www.seafriends.org.nz/enviro/plankton/class.htm

[5] https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-dead-zones-and-harmful-algal-blooms

Featured image from http://blueplanetsociety.org/2016/04/studying-phytoplankton-with-citizen/

 

Looking Back

Former President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-646, Title III CWPPRA into law in 1990 to combat the national issue of coastal land loss. Over 25 years after he left office and a week after the late President’s day of mourning, this legislation is still providing protection to billions of dollars’ worth of industry, major human settlements, and beautiful ecosystems.

At 28 years of projects and counting, CWPPRA is among the longest-standing federally-funded restoration ventures in the country, as well as one of the most successful. To date, 210 projects have been authorized across Louisiana’s coastal zone to restore 100,000+ acres of wetlands. Each year of operation, CWPPRA has approved funding on multiple projects scattered across our coast. The locations of our projects can be found at https://lacoast.gov/new/About/Basins.aspx.

CWPPRA projects are proposed by anyone and developed in conjunction with one of our 5 federal managing agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The process of project selection is always a rigorous competition between candidate projects across Louisiana’s coast. Each proposal presents estimated ecological benefits, cost estimates, and a detailed plan for the desired project. At the beginning of each calendar year, Regional Planning Team meetings are held across the coast to hear proposals. The proposed projects are compiled into an annual Project Priority List (PPL). Upcoming proposal meetings can be found Jan 29-31, 2019 on our calendar at https://lacoast.gov/calendar/. Over the next year the CWPPRA Technical Committee and Task Force narrow the list of candidate projects. In December, the Technical Committee recommends their top 4 projects to the Task Force. The Task Force finally votes in January on the 4 projects they will fund for Phase I Engineering and Design. This annual cycle will complete its 28th round in late January 2019.

CWPPRA is excited about wrapping up PPL 28 next month and starting on PPL 29! Be on the lookout for announcements about projects chosen for funding at the January 24th Task Force meeting. We look forward to continuing our efforts to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/

Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Shoreline Protection (ME-09)

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The management levee between the GIWW and the
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge was in danger
of breaching as a result of erosion from boat traffic in the
GIWW. If breaching had occurred, wave energy from the
GIWW and salt water would have entered the organic,
freshwater wetlands.

A 13,200-foot rock breakwater was constructed 50 feet
from the northern bank of the GIWW to prevent waves
caused by boat traffic from overtopping and eroding the
remaining spoil bank.
The project’s effectiveness is being evaluated by shoreline
movement surveys and by comparing pre-construction and
post-construction aerial photographs for changes in marsh
loss rates.

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This project is located in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, on
the north shore of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
(GIWW), approximately 7 miles southeast of Sweet Lake
and to the east of Louisiana Highway 27 at its intersection
with the GIWW. It encompasses 640 acres of fresh marsh
and open water.

During 1993-97, while the project area had a 4.9% increase in
water coverage due to management for waterfowl, the
reference area remained unchanged.

The results of shoreline monitoring indicate that the project
has protected 13,200 feet of shoreline, along with 247 acres of
marsh north of the dike. This protection is expected to accrue
throughout the life of the project for a net restoration of at
least 23 acres. Monitoring has shown that the GIWW’s
northern shoreline advanced 9.8 feet per year in the project
area while retreating at a rate of 3.0 feet per year in the
reference area, indicating that low sediment availability does
not prohibit wetland creation behind rock dikes on navigation
channels.

To date, the project has exhibited success. It is expected that
the project area will continue to accrete new wetland area
between the spoil bank and the rock dike, further
safeguarding the adjacent wetland area from encroachment by
the GIWW.

This project is on Priority Project List 1.

 

The Federal Sponsor is USFWS

The Local Sponsor is CPRA

Soil Pollution

Today is World Soils Day, time to talk about soil pollution and wetlands! Soil pollution is often referred to as “invisible” because, although pollution can be detected through testing [LINK TESTING], it is much more difficult to see with the naked eye. Some of the biggest players in soil pollution today are improper waste management, agricultural runoff, and industrial processes. You may not think you are directly impacted by soil pollution, but you are.

Polluted soil in agricultural fields is arguably the most direct impact to humans because the pollutants are taken into the crop, whether it is a plant or animal, and make it into our food stream. [1] Pollutants in soils are also less hospitable to plant recruits, which is terrible news for coastal Louisiana. Our coastal wetlands provide us with many things that we rely on, and we cannot afford to lose our wetlands to preventable pollution. When soils do not incorporate healthy plant roots, they are much more susceptible to erosion. When moving sediments around, CWPPRA wants to make sure that plants can re-establish effectively, so they want healthy soils. [2]

Areas with unsustainable levels of pollution are spreading, and non-point source pollution, which includes road and agricultural runoff, is very hard to track and very hard to remediate. Pollutants are not easily scrubbed from soils on a mass scale and so they follow the flow of water. Runoff travels through watersheds just like clean water and makes its way into our coastal wetlands with damaging consequences. Coastal wetlands are resilient ecosystems, but they have limits. We cannot overburden them with harmful, carefree attitudes towards pollution. Our coast deserves to be protected. Our coast deserves to be respected.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/bioaccumulationbiomagnificationeffects.pdf

[2] https://www.lacoast.gov/crms/crms_public_data/publications/CRMS_FactSheet_Web.pdf

Featured image from https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/are-wetlands-really-the-earths-kidneys/