Once thought of as wasteland that could be drained and used for development, we now understand that wetlands provide an invaluable source of wealth to the environment. They are the foundation of some of nature’s richest ecosystems, offering a highly diverse habitat to many species of wildlife. Wetlands also provide a sophisticated water filtering and management system critical to the vitality of Lake George.
A wetland, which in layman’s terms can be categorized as a marsh, bog, swamp, emergent wetland or deep marsh, or a wet meadow, is a piece of land submerged under water for at least part of the year. Wetland boundaries fluctuate over time and can be static or flowing. They vary in size, depth, and composition. They can be large, covering hundreds of acres, or small patchy areas. Some are wet all year long, while others are mostly dry with only periodic flooding.
An important type of wetland that borders various parts of the Lake George shoreline is the emergent wetland. Figure 20 illustrates an emergent wetland.This type of wetland is frequently or continually inundated with water. It is characterized by soft-stemmed vegetation, such as grasses, sedges (perennial plants that resemble grasses), and forbs (broad-leaved plants), that live in shallow water. Plants adapted to the moisture-saturated soil conditions of wetlands include cattails, bulrushes, pickerelweed, and arrowheads. Wetlands that dot the Lake George shoreline and other parts of the watershed vary in size from several square feet to vast areas covering hundreds of acres, such as the ones that border Northwest and Dunhams bays.
Another important wetland in the Lake George watershed is a “deep water marsh.” A deep water marsh is a permanently flooded area that doesn’t exceed a seasonal water depth of six feet and is defined by free floating vegetation, rooted vegetation with floating leaves, or submerged vegetation. This wetland is found in many locations along the shoreline of Lake George. Duckweed, water lilies, coontail, bladderwort, wild celery and pondweeds grow in this type of wetland. It may be an important food source for waterfowl and is a critical area for fish spawning and nurseries.
Unfortunately, Lake George has lost hundreds of acres of these wetlands due to filling and dredging activities, erosion and the invasion of non-native species such as Purple loosestrife and Phragmites. As a result of wetland destruction, we have lost some of nature’s most effective filtering systems that have helped maintain the lake in its clearest form for so long.
Wetlands protect water quality by acting as filters to remove sediments, nutrients and pollutants from stormwater runoff. Water moves slowly through a wetland, allowing sediment and other pollutants time to settle. Wetland vegetation and microorganisms process excess nutrients and other pollutants, converting them to plant biomass or simply trapping them within the wetland.
These environments are so effective at stormwater manage-ment and treatment that industries and municipalities have adopted the practice of creating man-made wetlands for the treatment of stormwater runoff and pollution.
Wetlands are irreplaceable. Whether a landowner is just beginning to develop a property or is a longtime resident, protection of wetlands is critical for the water quality of Lake George and is a major lake stewardship responsibility of any shoreline landowner.