In the weeks that follow a flooding event, authorities are providing immediate assistance to those suffering from the disaster, but they are also looking for answers to help provide residents with better protection in the future. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita revealed how essential wetlands in coastal areas can be to reducing the impact of flooding. The recent flooding throughout the Midwest has again made it evident that more wetlands throughout America's Heartland could be beneficial as well.

"It is essential that we view wetlands in a landscape and system-wide perspective. Wetlands in watersheds and those in association with the floodplain offer important ecological buffers to even more extreme events," said Dale Humburg, chief biologist, Ducks Unlimited. "Treating local flooding problems is like putting an ecological band-aid on a system-wide problem."

It is estimated that Missouri has lost 87 percent of its wetlands. Wetlands are the natural transitions that occur between rivers and the landscape surrounding them. These complex systems hold water, filter sediments and slow the movement of spreading water.

Highly-altered floodplains and river systems throughout Missouri and in the states upstream, result in dramatic differences in the nature of water movement. Combining this with long-term changes in cropping and loss of Conservation Reserve Program grasses, has created a system where unrestricted water rushes into creeks and streams that cannot contain it.

"The land that lines the Mississippi River and its tributaries has seen the loss of a majority of its natural wetlands," Humburg explained. "Flooding likely would have occurred this year regardless of the status of wetlands and floodplains; however, a functional wetland system would have reduced the magnitude of the flooding as the wetlands and floodplains provide a "sponge-like" buffer to soak up water and mitigate flood effects."

Ducks Unlimited has worked with its partners to restore wetlands in those areas currently affected by Midwestern flooding. In Missouri alone, DU has worked with public and private partners to conserve more than 97,105 wetland areas. Regardless of their size, depth, and often ephemeral nature, wetlands provide important functions such as flood storage, nutrient and sediment filtering, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunity.