Replacing Natural Wetlands with Stormwater Management Facilities: Biophysical and Perceived Social Values

Rebecca Rooney
Lee Foote
N. Krogman
K. Pattison
M.J. Wilson
Suzanne Bayley
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Urban expansion replaces wetlands of natural origin with artificial stormwater management facilities. The literature suggests that efforts to mimic natural wetlands in the design of stormwater facilities can expand the provision of ecosystem services. Policy developments seek to capitalize on these improvements, encouraging developers to build stormwater wetlands in place of stormwater ponds; however, few have compared the biophysical values and social perceptions of these created wetlands to those of the natural wetlands they are replacing. We compared four types of wetlands: natural references sites, natural wetlands impacted by agriculture, created stormwater wetlands, and created stormwater ponds. We anticipated that they would exhibit a gradient in biodiversity, ecological integrity, chemical and hydrologic stress. We further anticipated that perceived values would mirror measured biophysical values. We found higher biophysical values associated with wetlands of natural origin (both reference and agriculturally impacted). The biophysical values of stormwater wetlands and stormwater ponds were lower and indistinguishable from one another. The perceived wetland values assessed by the public differed from the observed biophysical values. This has important policy implications, as the public are not likely to perceive the loss of values associated with the replacement of natural wetlands with created stormwater management facilities. We conclude that 1) agriculturally impacted wetlands provide biophysical values equivalent to those of natural wetlands, meaning that land use alone is not a great predictor of wetland value; 2) stormwater wetlands are not a substantive improvement over stormwater ponds, relative to wetlands of natural origin; 3) stormwater wetlands are poor mimics of natural wetlands, likely due to fundamental distinctions in terms of basin morphology, temporal variation in hydrology, ground water connectivity, and landscape position; 4) these drivers are relatively fixed, thus, once constructed, it may not be possible to modify them to improve provision of biophysical values; 5) these fixed drivers are not well perceived by the public and thus public perception may not capture the true value of natural wetlands, including those impacted by agriculture.