Economic development and amphibians. The stormwater connection.
Greg Gerritt Sept 7, 2015
The Rhode Island economy is mostly bedeviled by the excesses of neoliberal capitalism. Amphibians are the most vulnerable and endangered group of animals on the planet. It is therefore highly appropriate that transforming our stormwater infrastructure, building stronger communities as we build resilience into our infrastructure by returning some wetlands functionality, can also be part of what we do to restore amphibian habitat and populations.
Rhode Islands problems with flooding have worsened over time, primarily due to the destruction of wetlands, but exacerbated by the bigger storms that are now woven into the climate change we are experiencing in New England. Funny how one of the biggest polluter on the planet, the leading edge of deforestation as well as climate change, the automobile, is also the primary reason RI wetlands are so diminished, with our roads and sprawl. Well maybe not funny.
But we are shifting to electric cars run on solar and wind power, so the intersection between humans and the wet places our amphibians need can change as well. Rethinking how we manage water and stormwater in our communities is something we have to do to reduce flooding and pollution. Why not go the next step and use the transformation to create habitat?
There has been a bit of skepticism about our ability to create breeding habitat for amphibians, let alone do it within our stormwater infrastructure. Issues that have to be pondered include road salt, mosquitos, creating false hope for amphibians by ponds going dry or ending up with fish and bullfrogs instead of amphibians like salamanders and some toads that are suffering from reduced habitat in RI.
The fact that I study the amphibian population of a rainwater runoff swale in Providence’s North Burial Ground gives me some foundation for believing we can use stormwater to create amphibian habitat in at least a few places in Rhode Island, and research and communications with people building wetlands as amphibian habitat has convinced me that the questions we have about can we do this well enough to be useful can be answered in the affirmative.
Much of the green stormwater infrastructure built in the future will be in places that do not have sufficient feeding habitat close at hand, and therefor de not make sense as amphibian habitat. But in places with sufficient habitat, it makes sense for us to develop criteria for pond creation that match the species we would like to take advantage of the reconstructed water flows. This means we need to know well the habitat requirements of the various amphibians of Rhode Island as well as what design features would give us clean water in the right quantities in most years. I think the ecologists and designers in Rhode Island might find this interesting, and who knows what else it will stimulate as we evolve towards prosperity through climate resilience
I look forward to seeing what evolves from this changing paradigm.
The Youtube channel Moshassuckcritters focuses primarily on the amphibians in the North Burial Ground that live in the drainage swale
Link to the website of the RI Green infrastructure Coaliton