Perhaps this statement best captures the thrust of a project sponsored by the Wetlands Initiative to restore wetlands in the Midwest: "It's like dialysis for water systems." The 2,600-acre project in Hennepin, Illinois, backed by the Wetlands Initiative and a motley of other major environmental groups, aims to show that restoring wetlands would be a cost-effective, and potentially lucrative, way to filter harmful nitrogen and phosphorus and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It would also benefit hunters and wildlife watchers by expanding the habitats for a variety of wetland residents. The project has been unofficially dubbed "nutrient farming."
"We think it's a good investment. We're confident that it'll work," said Richard Lanyon, the district's general superintendent. "We expect the state of Illinois will adopt water quality standards for nutrients and we will be obligated to meet those standards. We know wetlands remove nutrients."The planners' challenge comes in creating an incentive strong enough to convince enough landowners to go along with the project. Establishing a market of "nutrient credits," through which businesses dumping chemicals into public waterways could compensate for polluting by defraying the clean-up costs, would be a potential solution. In addition, because the wetlands absorb carbon dioxide from the air, carbon credits could also be sold to energy-intensive industries such as power companies.
While not guaranteed to succeed (farmers and other landowners have been notoriously difficult to monitor in the past for similar projects), all agree that more needs to be done to reduce nutrient levels in the public waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency recently mandated state governments to either establish firm water quality standards for phosphorus and nitrogen or adopt proposed federal guidelines.
A similar scheme arranged at a nearby city helped bring back several endangered species and has made the area a popular birdwatcher destination. "It's a tremendous accomplishment. We would love to see this take off all along the Illinois River," said Joyce Blumenshine, a member of the Sierra Club.
Via ::Project Aims To Convert Farmland Into Wetlands (newspaper)