The Importance of Wetlands

Wetlands and associated riparian areas are important to most of our wildlife species, but they are very important to humans and their activities as well. Many people do not realize that the stream flow patterns we see today reflect widespread wetland removal, which has left us with unnaturally high flows in spring and lower low flows in summer, all of which means we have less water for irrigation and fish in summer but have more bank erosion and flooding in spring.

Wetlands also filter water, reducing pollution, and provide some of the most diverse, yet limited, habitat. Most animals use wetlands and riparian areas at some point in their life cycle, yet wetlands only cover approximately one percent of the landscape.

Restoration of wetlands, floodplain connectivity, and in-stream habitat complexity (think: “speed bumps” for strong flood flows) is needed to get these needed benefits back. Wetlands are components of many types of projects, such as wetland delineations and permitting for infrastructure construction or improvements, incorporating natural corridor and wetland habitat in development or stormwater projects, and restoring wetlands to protect water quality or important wildlife habitat.

Great West Engineering provides all aspects of wetland assessment, restoration, and management to identify potential project limitations and to design and permit projects that protect natural resources while meeting clients’ needs. Our wetland services include: Wetland delineation and mapping, wetland functional assessments and mitigation design, and mitigation compliance monitoring. Our services in aquatic resources also include stream, wetland, and floodplain permitting and restoration, aquatic habitat condition assessment and restoration, non-traditional restoration designs such as Stage Zero restoration and Low-tech Process-Based Restoration, aerial imaging, monitoring, and mapping of wetlands and ecosystem response to restoration.

One example of Great West’s wetlands work is an extensive wetland delineation and mitigation project for a new water intake and pipeline for the City of Laurel. Great West Engineering delineated wetlands to support permitting and design of the new water intake and pipeline. Our team also developed a wetland mitigation design that allowed the client to avoid all but minimal wetland credit purchase cost by salvaging seedbed and plant materials from existing wetlands in the construction zone and spreading the wetland materials to the recontoured wetlands post-construction.  Great West conducted post-restoration monitoring to document pre-and post-construction contours and the recovery of wetland communities.

Before: Headcut and channel incision are drying out the lower floodplain

After Phase 1 of construction: Low-tech stream restoration techniques return water to the low floodplain

In a project of an entirely different nature, Great West Engineering is providing the technical lead for a pilot study of low-cost stream and wetland restoration techniques in the northern prairie landscape, planning and overseeing construction of projects on BLM land in four counties in east-central Montana. This innovative and wide-reaching project has multiple objectives: Test site-appropriate and low-cost methods to mitigate head cutting (where streams erode downward at a nick point) and prevent loss of riparian rangeland; reconnect degraded stream channels and floodplain pastures; improve sage grouse chick survival by maintaining green riparian vegetation longer in summer; increase duration and extent of stream flow; and demonstrate potential tools for riparian restoration and channel protection to local stakeholders. This project involves a great mix of partners, including Bureau of Land Management, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Trappers’ Association, Montana Conservation Corps, University of Montana, U.S. Geological Service, and local volunteers.

Great West has completed wetland mapping, assessment, and restoration projects throughout Montana, as well as in neighboring states. We have the experience to navigate the challenges and identify the opportunities wetlands and aquatic resources can lend to projects and are committed to responsible management of these valuable resources. To find out more about our wetland services or how we can help your community contact us today.

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