World Wetlands Day and the 50th anniversary of signing the Convention on Wetlands and wetlands in the national water management

29 stycznia 2021 r.

Wetlands are a natural reservoir of drinking water on Earth. In addition to their retentiveness, they form unique natural habitats, are the home ground of wild fauna and flora and also perform landscape functions. The National Water Management Authority (PGW WP), as the largest national entity managing waters owned by the State Treasury, manages the waters in a sustainable way, also taking into account the protection and restoration of wetlands in its activities.

Population growth, urbanization and consumerism have left a huge mark on the world's wetlands, with almost 90% of them lost since 1700. In an effort to save wetlands across the globe, in February 1971, 18 countries signed the Ramsar Convention, known as the "Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat". It is the world's oldest convention dedicated to the protection of the natural environment. According to its provisions, wetlands are areas of swamps, fen and peatland as well as water reservoirs, both natural and artificial, permanent and temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or briny. They also include marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters. The most valuable wetlands are included in the list of wetlands of international importance, the so-called Ramsar areas.

Ramsar areas in Poland

At present, over 170 countries are parties to the Ramsar Convention. Together they have designated over 2,000 Ramsar sites covering an area of over 225 million hectares. The largest number of sites protected under the Convention was listed by the United Kingdom, while the largest total area of these sites was designated by Canada. Poland ratified the convention in 1978, and the official charged with the implementation of its provisions is the General Director for Environmental Protection. Poland's Ramsar sites include National Parks, Nature Reserves, Post-Glacial Ponds of the Tatra National Park and its peat bogs, Biebrza backwaters, Izera Valley Peat Bogs, Ponds of Przemków and the Vistula Mouth. This year's theme for the World Wetlands Day is "Water, Wetlands and Life".
The statistics show that the Earth's surface water resources are constantly diminishing. This problem is visible on a global scale, which is why the number of countries that subscribe to the provisions of the Convention is increasing.
As much as 82% of the human population is exposed to high levels of pollution in their water supply, while over 2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Only 2.5% of the Earth's water is freshwater, mainly locked up in glaciers and underground aquifers, whereas drinking water unfortunately accounts for less than 1% of these resources. It is also worrying that population growth by 2050, estimated to reach 10 billion, will increase food production by 70%. This will increase water consumption by as much as 14%.

Fig. The Bug River oxbow lake in the village of Nur. Author: Michał Kiziniewicz, Wody Polskie

The importance of wetlands in the world

World Wetlands Day, which is celebrated on February 2, is an opportunity to highlight how vital wetlands are to the global economy, primarily  as the most valuable ecosystem. Nearly 40% of plant and animal species in the world live and reproduce in wetlands, and approx. 200 new fish species are discovered in freshwater wetlands each year alone.

Recently, forests have attracted more attention, especially from the media. Yet it is the peatlands that store twice as much carbon as trees, while salt flats, mangroves and underwater meadows store large amounts of carbon. One of the key functions of wetlands, particularly important in the context of climate change, is that they safeguard against flooding, with each hectare absorbing 14 million liters of flood water.
We are facing an escalating water crisis and unfortunately we use more water than nature can produce. By draining wetlands, we irreversibly destroy water resources, along with the abundant world of plants and animals, alongside ecosystem services. However, we can have enough water for both nature and ourselves if we put an end to the destruction and start restoring wetlands, take responsibility for overproduction of waste, increase water efficiency and acknowledge that water and wetlands play an important role in our development and resource management plans.  

Activities of PGW WP in favour of wetlands

In carrying out its tasks, the National Water Management Authority (PGW WP) recognizes the role of wetlands as a key element of natural water retention, taking into account their role in counteracting the effects of droughts and floods through their ability to retain water, slowly release it back to the environment during dry periods and accumulate it during rainfall. The restoration of wetlands and maintenance of the existing ones in good condition will be carried out by the National Water Management Authority thanks to the development of the first nationwide National Surface Water Renaturalisation Program. This document is a starting point for specific field work, whereas the final decisions on the planned restoration activities and the schedule for their implementation will be taken at the stage of currently ongoing works aimed at drawing up the 2nd update of water management plans (II aPGW). These will include the preparation of a set of actions for all surface water and groundwater bodies, taking into account the methods of meeting the environmental objectives. The work also involved the writing of a handbook, "Water Restoration. A Manual of Good Practices for Surface Water Restoration”. More information about the project, as well as a downloadable PDF handbook can be found here
Moreover, National Water Management Authority carries out the investments that also include giving space to the rivers wherever it is possible to do. This allows for the maintenance and restoration of wetlands and local lowering of flood wave culminations by increasing the space in which rivers can freely discharge water. An example of such activities is increasing the inter-embankment zone of the Wisłoka River as part of the construction of new flood embankments.

You can download a poster of the Wetlands Day and a leaflet with basic information about water, wetlands and their close connections with human life and activity here.
 Fig. Meadows at the Bug River in the village of Brzuza. Author: Michał Kiziniewicz, Wody Polskie

Fig. The Bug River oxbow lake in the village of Nur. Author: Michał Kiziniewicz, Wody Polskie


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