Healthy floodplains are nature’s buffer against weather extremes. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on an innovative project in the San Joaquin Valley combining flood management with ecosystem restoration. The plan includes the purchase of an existing ranch by a nonprofit group called River Partners. The $10 million project is expected to take 10 years to complete, and will transform low-lying farmland back into riparian floodplain.
John Carlon, president of River Partners, quoted in the Chronicle said, “A really major component of this project is flood control. If all these low areas near the river were acquired, theoretically you could store more water in the reservoirs because you could spill more out all at once without hurting the neighbors. It is a different way of looking at water supply management.”
Reclaiming almond groves, corn and wheat fields and retuning them to wetlands will benefits migrating fish as well as hundreds of thousands of birds along the Pacific Flyway, one of the largest migratory bird paths in the world.
According to the Chronicle, some 95 percent of the historic floodplains in the Central Valley were filled in or blocked by levees after the Gold Rush. The work is a model for California’s first-ever attempt to create a systemwide flood management plan for the state’s major reservoirs.
Caption: U.S. Army Corps of Engineer vessels dredge chunks of limestone from the Mississippi River. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineer, Wikimedia Commons)
Discovery News recently reported that due to drought conditions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned that the Mississippi River could become unnavigable by mid January. However, efforts by the USACE to blast away rocks have bought more time for barge shipping, according to a press release from the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) The river will now likely stay open through January.
In times of drought or flood, healthy floodplains can mitigate the negative impacts of either extreme. Healthy floodplains act as a sponge to store water in times of drought and absorb excess water during flood events. That’s why at Trout Headwaters we tirelessly advocate for healthy, functioning floodplains for rivers and the smaller tributaries that feed them.
In the top five of each list is the health of wetlands and riparian areas. Healthy wetlands act as a buffer to slow, filter and absorb flood waters.
“Protect Our Natural Defenses: Natural features like wetlands reduce storm intensity and protect nearby properties from flooding. In fact, a single acre of wetland can store 1–1.5 million gallons of flood water. We must capitalize on these benefits and ensure that government helps protect these beneficial and cost-effective flood control features. The Obama Administration took several new steps to meet this goal. It has created new guidance and intends to pursue rulemaking to reinstate crucial Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and streams, and is also poised to release new water resources planning guidelines.”
With regard to actions that put people, property and wildlife at risk is the use of hard materials, like rock and concrete, in the place of natural materials for wetland and riparian stabilization and restoration.
“[Don’t] Build with Concrete instead of Mud and Grass: The WRDA 2007 national water policy proposed to “protect the environment” by “protecting and restoring the functions of natural systems and mitigating any unavoidable damage to natural systems,” and by “seeking to avoid the unwise use of floodplains.” The Corps is ignoring these requirements by continuing to promote environmentally destructive and costly structural projects even where less costly and environmentally protective nonstructural and restoration measures would provide better solutions. We need a major change of course to stop building structures that protect those directly behind them and exacerbate downstream flooding and instead use natural, open floodplains to allow rivers room to expand and cover their banks without impacting property.”
The Washington Post reports on the Rio+20 EarthSummit in Rio de Janeiro, “The actual negotiations in Rio have produced little of substance, beyond an abstract commitment to craft ‘sustainable development goals’ in the future. The Brazilian government, which is hosting the meeting, took out language which would have committed countries to reaching three U.N. goals by 2030: ensuring universal access to electricity and heating; doubling the global rate of energy efficiency improvement; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”
According to the Post, Rebecca Lefton, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress wrote in an email: ‘The text is disappointing to many who were hoping that Rio would be a once-in-a-lifetime event redirecting the world with a clear plan for a clean and prosperous future.’
On a brighter note the article says there is, “much evidence that both political and business leaders are finally accepting the idea that a healthy environment is good for the economy.”
Ecological services derived from healthy streams, wetlands, and riparian zones include food, freshwater, flood control, water treatment, and recreational opportunities to mention only a few. They are vital for human well-being and maintaining healthy wildlife populations. Their benefits are felt locally in the form of providing drinking water and food, while on a global scale sequestering carbon and helping to regulate climate. The economic impacts are great. Some estimates put the world economic impact from ecological services at $18 trillion per year (Costanza et. al. 1997).
Today one essential element of a healthy business is being a steward for a healthy environment. The Green Economy recognizes that healthy ecosystems provide irreplaceable services like clean air, clean water, and productive soils that are now being assigned tangible values.
We help you identify and capitalize on your natural amenities. We smooth the regulatory path. We blend the best science with creative problem solving to lower costs. Our specialty is forming unique relationships that continually add value for each client on every project. We’re small enough to be flexible and responsive, and sizeable enough to handle any challenge. When partnering with Trout Headwaters, Inc. you’ll learn quickly that we are interested in helping you grow with the trends.
The natural features that are present in our watersheds provide services for us. We all know that clean water is important to us; in fact humans can’t live without it! What you may not be aware of are the other functions that a healthy watershed supplies for us.
Wetlands filter runoff water from cities and fields and remove sediment. Natural stream banks slow down water as it races at high water helping to control flash flooding. And natural, un-compacted soils absorb water slowly after it rains helping to control erosion and flooding, and helping to filter the water before it reaches ponds, lakes, and rivers.
A healthy watershed provides all these services to us for free, but when we disturb the natural systems that are at work for us, we have to pay to have the same services performed. Instead of the healthy un-compacted soils absorbing and filtering water to help clean it, we must pay more for water treatment. Instead of natural vegetated streambanks slowing down rushing, raging, high waters, we pay the costs of flash flood damage. Instead of wetlands absorbing sediment and runoff from cities and fields those sediments end up choking streams and lakes resulting in maintenance costs.
Protecting or restoring a healthy well-functioning watershed saves us all money in the long run. We aren’t the only ones who count on healthy watershed features either; all life, plants, birds, fish, and others depend on healthy watersheds for life. >Learn More