$3 million will fund wetlands restoration, clean mine water

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A $3 million grant would help Webb City create a large wetland area to help clean water from wells in the area, eventually creating habitat for aquatic life in the Ozarks

Webb City officials have announced plans to buy land along Center Creek for a 100-acre wetland to combat pollution runoff from former mines. Another 1,200 acres would be used for wildlife habitat, walking trails and picnic areas.

The project will be funded by a $3 million grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Eventually, the wetlands should provide a safe environment for many different species of birds, insects and aquatic life.

The city already owns about 300 acres in the area, about 50 property owners will be asked to sell their land. None of the private land have buildings on them, and most are in the Center Creek flood plain where construction is not allowed. No one would be forced to sell property to the city. It could take up to two years to purchase all of the land, says Carl Francis, interim city administrator for Webb City.

“We’re not buying buildings or houses,” says Francis. “If you own some flood plain and just want to sell that part, we’ll have survey crews ready to separate that.”

Community leaders have been talking to federal and state regulators about ways to reduce heavy metal runoff from decades of lead and zinc mining. The wetlands would trap sediment, excess nutrients and pollutants that currently flow into Center Creek and then into Spring River.

The project would save the city the cost of hauling sludge from the wastewater treatment plant in Webb City north to Lamar, where it now ends up in a hazardous waste fill. The wastewater treatment plant also provides water for Oronogo and Carterville.

“We have lost nearly 90 percent of wetland areas in Missouri in the last century and 50 percent of wetlands across the country since the early 1800s,” warns Dylan Kesler, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. “This loss has affected migratory bird populations and migration timing and routes. Our research shows the importance of  wetland areas to maintain healthy populations of migratory birds and other species, especially in an age of budget cuts for government programs protecting these few remaining wetland areas. If we don’t maintain these wildlife preserves it will put dozens, if not hundreds, of wildlife species in danger.”

Why is it important to preserve wetlands?

  • Wetlands are transition areas between dry land and open waters; however, they are not always wet.
  • Usually wetlands contain plant-life adapted to survive in water-saturated soils, normally without oxygen (anaerobic).
  • Some of the plants found in wetlands include duckweed, water lilies, cattails, pondweed, reeds, sedges and bulrushes.
  • Wetlands can provide habitat for fish and wildlife and recreation areas for people to hunt, fish and enjoy watching nature. Wetlands store floodwaters and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. Wetlands protect and improve water quality.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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