Wetlands play many critical environmental roles, including providing habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species; serving as rest stops for migratory birds; helping to prevent floods; controlling erosion; and filtering water. Wetlands can range in size and scope from small marshes to an area as large as the Everglades.
Since 1600, America has lost more than half of its wetlands. To protect against further loss, the nation has in recent years adopted a policy of "no net loss" of wetlands. USACE, working in partnership with many other organizations, is helping to implement this policy by protecting, preserving, and restoring. Over time we expect these efforts to not only reverse wetland losses but also yield gains in total wetland acreage.
At the same time, we recognize that there are many reasonable and necessary construction and development projects nationwide that will have an impact on wetlands. Through our regulatory program USACE works to ensure that these projects can go forward, without causing net loss of wetlands. In 2003, USACE issued permits that affected over 21,000 acres of wetland. By contrast more than 43,000 acres were restored, created, enhanced or preserved.
The USACE work related to the Charles River near Boston is an example of efforts to balance priorities related to wetlands. Because of its close proximity to the city the river poses a potential flood risk to residents. In the late 1960s, USACE undertook a study of the Charles and found that thousands of acres of wetlands along the river's middle and upper reaches were playing a key role in protecting the residents of Boston and 15 other communities from flooding. These wetlands drew off millions of gallons of excess water during periods of heavy rain and snowmelt, substantially reducing downstream flow.
At the time, though, many of these wetlands were being threatened by a boom in construction and development. Working in partnership with a number of other organizations and agencies, USACE began acquiring 17 of these wetlands. Over the subsequent four decades, USACE has successfully protected or restored thousands of acres of wetlands along the Charles River, preventing millions of dollars in flood damage. The Charles River Wetlands also help prevent erosion, provide a source for recreation and serve as a wonderful habitat for many plants, fish and wildlife.
The Charles River project reflects the more integrated, regional, watershed approach that USACE has taken in recent years. This approach addresses wetlands issues in a broader context that considers other water resources in the area such as rivers, lakes and coasts.