What is a Flood?
Anywhere it rains, it can flood. A flood is a general and temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow. Many conditions can result in a flood: hurricanes, overtopped levees, outdated or clogged drainage systems and rapid accumulation of rainfall.
Flood risk is based on a number of factors: rainfall, river-flow, topography, flood-control measures, and changes due to building and development.
What is a Floodplain?
A floodplain is the lowland area adjacent to a ditch, river, creek, stream, or lake that can be expected to flood occasionally.
Natural and Beneficial Functions of Floodplains
Floodplain lands and adjacent waters combine to form a complex, dynamic physical and biological system found nowhere else. When portions of floodplains are preserved in their natural state, or restored to it, they provide many benefits to both human and natural systems.
Some are static conditions–such as providing aesthetic pleasure–and some are active processes, such as reducing the number and severity of floods, helping handle stormwater runoff and minimizing non-point water pollution. For example, by allowing floodwater to slow down, sediments settle out, thus maintaining water quality. The natural vegetation filters out impurities and uses excess nutrients.
Such natural processes cost far less money than it would take to build facilities to correct flood, stormwater, water quality and other community problems.
Natural resources of floodplains fall into three categories: water resources, living resources and societal resources. The following sections describe each category’s natural and beneficial functions.
Natural flood and erosion control. Over the years, floodplains develop their own ways to handle flooding and erosion with natural features that provide floodwater storage and conveyance, reduce flood velocities and flood peaks, and curb sedimentation.
Natural controls on flooding and erosion help to maintain water quality by filtering nutrients and impurities from runoff, processing organic wastes and moderating temperature fluctuations./p>
These natural controls also contribute to recharging groundwater by promoting infiltration and refreshing aquifers, and by reducing the frequency and duration of low surface flows.
Biologic resources and functions.Floodplains enhance biological productivity by supporting a high rate of plant growth. This helps to maintain biodiversity and the integrity of ecosystems.
Floodplains also provide excellent habitats for fish and wildlife by serving as breeding and feeding grounds. They also create and enhance waterfowl habitats, and help to protect habitats for rare and endangered species.
Societal resources and functions.People benefit from floodplains through the food they provide, the recreational opportunities they afford and the scientific knowledge gained in studying them.
Wild and cultivated products are harvested in floodplains, which are enhanced agricultural land made rich by sediment deposits. They provide open space, which may be used to restore and enhance forest lands, or for recreational opportunities or simple enjoyment of their aesthetic beauty.
Floodplains provide areas for scientific study and outdoor education. They contain cultural resources such as historic or archaeological sites, and thus provide opportunities for environmental and other kinds of studies.
These natural resources and functions can increase a community’s overall quality of life, a role that often has been undervalued. By transforming stream and river floodplains from problem areas into value-added assets, the community can improve its quality of life.
Parks, bike paths, open spaces, wildlife conservation areas and aesthetic features are important to citizens. Assets like these make the community more appealing to potential employers, investors, residents, property owners and tourists.