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Better Wetlands - Regulate Water Levels

Photo of a stop log structure used to regulate water levels in restred wetlands
Stop log structures can help regulate
water levels in restored wetlands.

Restored wetlands range in depth from surface saturated soils up to about 6 feet of standing water with an desired average depth of 18 inches. Water control structures are used to manage wetlands by raising and lowering water levels.

Before restoring a wetland, landowners should consider their primary goals. For instance, water levels may be regulated differently for waterfowl benefits than water quality improvement.

Wetlands designed for waterfowl should be managed so that at least 75 percent of the surface area is less than 18 inches deep. This will enable emergent vegetation such as cattails to become established and grow vigorously. The other quarter of the wetland can range from 2 to 6 feet deep, but 3 to 4 feet of water is all that is necessary to assure water for duck broods.

Where water quality improvement is the primary goal, water depths should be less than 3 feet with vegetation over 75 percent of the wetland.

Water control structures can be used to periodically drain water off wetlands to enhance plant germination and otherwise manage wetland plants. The control structures can also be used to increase water depths to create open water areas.

Slow drawdowns ultimately result in more food and habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. The drawdowns must be timed carefully to avoid adversely affecting invertebrates and amphibians, however.

Restored wetlands must be designed and managed so that they do not back surface water onto an adjoining landowner or adversely affect drainage of other properties.

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