Here in the Mid-Atlantic we’re in the midst of an epic multi-day rain event in which all waterways are rising to extraordinary levels. Some streams and rivers have already caused serious damage as roads wash out and basements flood across the region--- and it’s still raining!
What better time than now to talk about floodplains? They are such an undervalued and misunderstood resource, and this is the time when we need them the most. Floodplains are an essential component to any river system, and any healthy system will see floodplain inundation from time to time. This is a good thing! When flows are high, water can spread out across the wider space that flood plains provide, diminishing damaging energy, dispersing sediment, and allowing for better groundwater recharge: all of which are beneficial to riparian ecosystems. Additionally, in monsoon times like our current deluge, floodplains help reduce flood damage by absorbing the blow that major storms bring.
The fact is, our communities benefit immensely from functional floodplains, but we’ve treated them like the enemy for centuries. Human encroachment on floodplains is an ancient story, and it’s still happening. Levees, dams, and control structures can cut off rivers from their natural floodplains. Roads, poor stormwater management, floodplain development, and other infrastructure, can reduce floodplain function. Perhaps most unnoticeable is how commonly stream degradation impairs floodplain connectivity by increasing the elevation difference between the channel and the floodplain.
The good news is that current restoration practices serve to reconnect waterways with their natural floodplains, and since events such as Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, and Katrina, we’re keenly aware of the problematic nature of our traditional river management systems. The best thing we can do as a community to prepare for the future of our waterways is to continue to reconnect our streams and rivers to their natural floodplains, and give them room to flood where it’s most beneficial for the safety of our communities, and the health of our rivers. It’s time to make the connection.
American Rivers is a great resource for more information: Benefits of Restoring Floodplains