Wetland development requires major investments of capital, manpower, technology, and inputs, as well as substantial annual investments in maintenance.
Modern society has much to learn from the many systems of sustainable wetland use which have been practised for centuries by rural communities, although traditional practices need to be adjusted to today's conditions.
The role of wetlands as groundwater recharge and discharge, flood control, water purification, fisheries support and nutrient retention are free goods and public benefits. Costing these services, in addition to ecotourism opportunities, offer attractive alternatives to wetland conversion for other development purposes. The lack of awareness of environmental services or private profit favours wetland drainage, therefore disrupting the normal water supply and compromising long-term viability of investments.
Wetland development projects concentrate on goods produced by wetlands (agricultural, forestry or fishery yields) without taking into consideration their full value as environmental regulators of land, water and nutrient flows. Consequently, where conversion is attempted, the ability of natural wetlands to sustain alternative development is low.