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World Wetlands Day is today, but why should you care?

We should all care because, in fact, the future of humanity depends on the world’s wetlands. Luckily, Sonoma County residents have worked hard for the last 25 years to restore and protect our own valuable wetlands: The Laguna de Santa Rosa.

Did you know these facts?

Wetlands filter and clean harmful chemicals and waste from water. Plants from wetlands can help absorb harmful fertilizers and pesticides, as well as heavy metals and toxins from industry. The laguna drains a 254 square mile watershed, which serves the residents of Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and the unincorporated community of Forestville.

Wetlands act as nature’s shock absorbers. Wetlands within river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools that reduce the impact of flooding in rivers. The same storage capacity also safeguards against drought. The laguna is the largest tributary of the Russian River and acts as a holding basin, capturing floodwaters and helping ease its impact on the communities along the Russian River. When the river floods, the laguna can act as a huge natural reservoir, storing up to 80,000 acre-feet of water. For the residents of Guerneville, this can result in a 14-foot reduction in the height of the 100-year flood.

Wetlands provide sustainable livelihoods and products. 61.8 million people depend directly on fishing and fisheries for a living. Timber for building, vegetable oil, medicinal plants, animal fodder, and stems and leaves for weaving also come from well managed wetlands. The Laguna not only provides a protected habitat for critical species, but also serves as a site for human recreation: boating, biking, birding, exploring, etc.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa has been named as a wetland of “international importance” because of the rare and endangered plant and animal species found here, the biodiversity of our region — one of the world’s few diverse “hotspots,” and our unique vernal pool environments. We live in a special place — one recognized not just locally but internationally.

Work to restore the laguna has been spearheaded by the Laguna Foundation, which is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. We are housed in the Laguna Environmental Center which includes, in addition to our offices in a restored 140-year-old farmhouse, a multi-use facility that we call Heron Hall where we hold our public education walks, talks and classes, an outdoor education facility that includes a demonstration wetland, and our native plant nursery where we grow genetically appropriate stock for our restoration projects. We have a three-fold mission: Restoration, conservation science and education.

We do not do this work alone. In addition to our dedicated staff and tremendously hardworking volunteers, the Laguna Foundation partners with other agencies, local governments, Sonoma County Water Agency, the Ag Preservation and Open Space District and county parks on many projects.

Make 2015 the year you explored the Laguna. Currently (and running through Feb. 21) there is a beautiful art exhibit at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts titled “Wetlands: ever changing waters, land and life.” At Heron Hall we have a Laguna inspired art show from local artist Molly Eckler called “Celebrate the wild.” For more information, please visit our website at lagunafoundation.org.

Why should we care about World Wetlands Day? We can’t afford not to.

Have you experienced price gouging after the fires? Let us know! Email Janet Balicki at janet.balicki@pressdemocrat.com