Effects on groundwater storage of restoring, constructing or draining wetlands in temperate and boreal climates: a systematic review
Review article, 2022
Drainage activities have caused widespread wetland loss, groundwater drawdown and impairment of ecosystem services. There are now several national programs for wetland restoration, primarily focused on reintroducing ecosystem services such as habitats and nutrient retention. In Sweden, recent dry summers have also reinforced interest in hydrological functions such as the potential for enhanced groundwater storage, both in and around the wetland. However, there are several knowledge gaps regarding groundwater storage effects of restoration, including if they extend beyond the wetland and how they vary with local conditions. Therefore, we have systematically reviewed groundwater storage effects from the interventions of restoring, constructing or draining boreo-temperate wetlands. Drainage was included primarily to evaluate to what degree restoration can reverse drainage effects. Methods: We searched 8 databases for scientific journal publications in English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, French, German and Polish. Gray literature was searched in English and Swedish. Articles were included based on their relevance for Swedish conditions, i.e., in previously glaciated areas with boreal or temperate climate. Extracted outcome data were groundwater level changes, along with other variables including type of wetland and intervention and, when reported, distance between sampling point and intervention. Meta-analyses were conducted separately for studies that reported groundwater levels at different distances and studies that reported overall effects. Included studies were subject to critical appraisal to evaluate their susceptibility to bias, primarily selection bias, performance bias, and detection bias. Critical appraisal results were used in sensitivity analysis. Review findings: Out of 11,288 screened records, 224 articles fulfilled the criteria, and from these, 146 studies were included in meta-analysis. Most studies (89%) investigated peatlands, primarily from Finland, the UK and Canada. Restoration and drainage studies were equally common. Only nine studies reported measurements beyond the wetland area. Our synthesis is therefore primarily focused on effects within wetlands. In peatland restoration, the observed groundwater level rise decreased exponentially with distance from the restored ditch and was reduced to 50% after 9 [95% confidence interval: 5, 26] m. Drainage reached somewhat farther, with 50% of the groundwater drawdown remaining at 21 [11, 64] m. On average, restoration increased groundwater levels by 22 [16, 28] cm near the intervention, whereas drainage caused a drawdown of 19 [10, 27] cm. Assuming that sampling was unbiased, effects were similar for bogs, fens and mires. Restricting the meta-analysis to the 58% of studies that were of high validity did not alter conclusions. Conclusions: Effects of peatland restoration and drainage were of similar magnitudes but opposite directions. This indicates that, on average, rewetting of drained peatlands can be expected to restore groundwater levels near the ditch. However, restoration may not reach all the area affected by drainage, and there was a strong dependence on local context. For managers of wetland projects, it is thus important to follow up and monitor restoration effects and reinforce the intervention if necessary. Our results also point to a need for better impact evaluation if increased storage beyond the restored wetland area is desired.