California Wetlands

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Wetlands have both aquatic and terrestrial characteristics. Wetlands form along the shallow margins of lakes, estuaries, and rivers, and in areas with high groundwater or shallow surface water, such as springs, wet meadows, ponds, and freshwater and tidal marshes. They often go through wet and dry cycles, and therefore support a unique array of life specially adapted to these conditions. Wetlands provide important habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife. They support local food webs, contribute to flood protection, groundwater recharge, shoreline protection, and water filtration: all important ecosystem services.

California has lost more than 90% of its historical wetlands and today, many remaining wetlands are threatened. Wetlands continue to be drained for agriculture, filled for development, or disturbed by modifications to the watershed such as dams or water diversions. Climate change poses a significant threat, as many wetlands today are dependent on artificial water delivery systems or high groundwater levels, and may be impacted by changing climatic conditions. Further, wetlands along the coast face flooding from potential sea level rise.

Because of their value and vulnerability, wetlands are protected by a series of special laws and permitting requirements. The informational links on this page contain more information about the health and distribution of California's wetlands.


Coastal wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate, despite their importance to ocean and coastal health, humans and the economy. We talk with Megan Cooper, Project Analyst at the State Coastal Conservancy, about how coastal restoration provides benefits to the environment and the economy. Restored wetlands provide habitat for birds, nurseries for marine life, flood protection, jobs, revenue and beautiful natural landscapes.

Everyday Action: Visit your local wetlands: see wildlife, go birding or take a tour to learn more about the important role wetlands play in our ocean and coastal health.