Estimating phosphorus retention of existing and restored coastal wetlands in a tributary watershed of the Laurentian Great Lakes in Michigan, USA

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Simulation modeling with uncertainty analysis was applied to the question of nonpoint source pollution control through extensive wetland restoration. The model was applied to the Quanicassee River basin, a tributary stream to Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron in northeastern Michigan, USA. An estimate of the role of the existing 695 ha of riverside and lake-side wetlands in the lower Quanicassee River basin suggests that they retain 1.2 metric tons of phosphorus per year (mt P/yr), or 2.5% of the total phosphorus load from the basin. A simple Vollenweider-type model of phosphorus retention by created wetlands, calibrated with 3-years of data from two wetland sites in Midwestern USA, was used to estimate the effect of major wetland restoration in the basin. For a wetland restoration project involving 15% of the Quanicassee River basin or 3,120 ha of wetlands, an estimated 33 mt P/yr could be retained, assuming a proper hydrologic connection between the wetlands and the river. This would represent a reduction of two-thirds of the existing phosphorus load to the Bay from the Quanicassee River basin. Large-scale wetland restoration appears to be a viable management practice for controlling phosphorus and other nonpoint source pollution from entering Saginaw Bay. It is an alternative that meets two major resource goals - developing wetland habitat and controlling pollution to the Great Lakes.

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