World Wetlands Day 2021: The importance of wetlands and water

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“We are using more freshwater than nature can replace, and are destroying the ecosystem that water and life depend on. Water and wetlands are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet.”

~UNESCO World Heritage Convention

Today (February 2) is World Wetlands Day. This designated day is particularly relevant to Living Lakes Canada (LLC) since our organization was founded in the Columbia Valley, headwaters of the transboundary Columbia River and home to one of North America’s longest, intact wetlands system — the Columbia Wetlands, a RAMSAR designated wetland of international importance.  

“Even in the dead of winter, our northern wetlands are out there storing water for the wildlife and providing services for us,” said wetlands ecologist Dr. Suzanne Bayley, who is president of the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners and an LLC advisor. “I counted 114 elk grazing on the wetlands just south of Brisco (Columbia Valley north) the other day. It’s hard to see under the snow and ice, but there is so much going on.”

The 2021 theme for World Wetlands Day is “Wetlands and Water” to highlight the importance of wetlands as a source of freshwater and encourage action to restore them and stop their loss. 

“Like other days on the calendar assigned to other causes, World Wetlands Day reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day, where the lesson, or in this case, the message, is repeated over and over again,” said LLC Executive Director Kat Hartwig, “The importance of protecting and preserving wetlands is now critical given the climate crisis on our freshwater ecosystems and the important role wetlands play in mitigating impact. The Columbia Wetlands will become even more important for maintaining biodiversity by providing a climate change refugia for migratory birds and local wildlife.”

Click here to view the fact sheet

Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s wetlands have been lost since the 1700s, and one in three freshwater species and a quarter of all wetland species face extinction from wetland decline (Convention on Wetlands, 2021). Meanwhile, water use has increased sixfold in the past 100 years, and is growing by 1 per cent each year, and the continuing loss and degradation of wetlands is intensifying this growing water crisis  — by 2050, significantly less renewable surface water and groundwater is forecast for already dry regions, and other regions will be water stressed, increasing water competition between people and ecosystems (Convention on Wetlands, 2021). Since wetlands capture and store rainwater, and replenish groundwater aquifers, their protection and restoration could sustainably support increased demands for water. But in order to accomplish this, solutions must be put in place such as coordinating water, land and resources without compromising the sustainability of ecosystems, and increasing the investment in wetlands as nature-based solutions for water resource management (Convention on Wetlands, 2021).

“There is an incredibly important relationship between groundwater and wetlands,” said Kat. “In the Columbia Wetlands, isotopic samples taken by Columbia Wetland Stewardship Partners volunteers, and analyzed at the University of Waterloo, have indicated that the amount of groundwater recharging the wetlands in non-flow periods may be up to 80 per cent. We will need to be very careful to balance the integrity of these internationally significant wetlands with impactful land uses such as logging, mining, municipal and recreation uses and, in particular, commercial extraction of water from important aquifers that wetlands rely on.”

Visit the World Wetlands Day website to learn more and share the facts to help raise awareness. #RestoreWetlands

For an excellent article by one of our partners, University of Guelph, on the use of DNA metabarcoding to assess wetland ecosystem health visit:

View our Columbia Wetlands photo gallery — all photos by Kat Hartwig. 


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