Natural and Constructed Wetlands

Wetlands are an important natural resource that make up a significant amount of the landscape in North Carolina.  In the not too distant past, wetlands were thought to be obstacles to the well-being of our citizens.  Estimates are that over 50% of the wetlands that were here when colonists first settled our state have been lost.  Many were purposely drained and filled for agriculture, development, and mosquito control.  Others were damaged inadvertently from nearby activities that resulted in filling by sediment or from pollution.  Some people continue to have negative perceptions about wetlands.

But over the last few decades, studies by scientists and engineers have shown that natural wetlands provide numerous benefits to both society and our economy, including flood control, water quality protection, carbon storage, and unique plant and animal habitat.

Because of their many recognized benefits, wetlands are now a protected natural resource.  When activities such as development, road construction, and agriculture or forestry operations negatively impact or destroy wetlands, they must be rebuilt through a process known as wetland restoration.

The goal of wetland restoration/creation projects is to successfully construct a system that exhibits the same structure and beneficial functions as a targeted wetland community in the most efficient manner possible. Poor site selection, inappropriate designs and inefficient implementation will result in restorations that are much too expensive and fall short of achieving target ecosystem services, whether the restoration/creation project is required for compensatory mitigation or a volunteer effort.

Wetlands are also constructed in strategic locations with the primary purpose to help protect downstream water resources from the impacts of excessive rainfall runoff from urban and agricultural areas (known as stormwater wetlands), and to treat more polluted water originating from wastewater treatment facilities, agricultural facilities, and landfills (known as constructed treatment wetlands).

Extension provides education about the benefits of wetlands, and also provides research and outreach to improve our understanding of how natural wetlands function, and how to best restore their structure and functions when the need arises.  Additional applied research and demonstration studies are on-going as we also attempt to improve the impact that constructed wetlands for stormwater and wastewater treatment have on improved water quality in NC.


Dr. Mike Burchell
Associate Professor & Extension Leader
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Ecosystem Restoration Engineering
Phone: 919-513-7348