Water quality-land use interactions in restored wetlands of the Mississippi Delta

Author(s): Ervin, G.

Restoration of former agricultural land to wetlands, through programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), often focuses on restoring functions such as water quality improvement and wildlife habitat enhancement. However, results are inconclusive as to the long-term successes of these restorations. Our work is aimed at determining whether wetland restorations in the Mississippi Delta achieve sustained water quality improvements, and whether key water quality parameters are influenced by surrounding land use. During the summer of 2014, we assessed vegetation, land use, soils, and water quality in and around 24 restored and 6 naturally occurring wetlands across a gradient of human land use in the Delta. Initial analyses were based on classifying wetlands into watersheds with high, medium, or low levels of agricultural intensity, based on data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. We found differences in soils and surrounding land use of natural vs. restored wetlands but few differences attributable solely to our a priori classification of wetlands based on surrounding agricultural land use. When we examined correlations between water quality parameters and land use within 200m of the wetlands, we unexpectedly found no significant correlations. Nutrient concentrations were quite high in these wetlands; thus, it is possible that concentrations alone may be uninformative about impacts of surrounding land use. Additional work is planned to examine changes in water quality as surface waters move through these wetlands, as this may be a better metric of ecological function for Mississippi Delta wetlands.
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