Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: It’s the Season for Floods

Spring is well underway throughout many parts of the country.  The flower shows with their displays of vibrant color inspire gardeners like me to start shadowing the local nurseries in search of interesting shrubs and trees.  This weekend New England wood frogs and salamanders were celebrating an early ‘Big Night.’  Male turkeys are up early trying to attract disinterested females by fanning their tail feathers and solemnly turning back and forth in stately display.  Elsewhere the water is rising. 

Spring floods are part of a natural cycle.  High water overflowing into floodplains can deposit rich sediment and natural fertilizers, support fish and other wildlife and prevent and dissipate the potentially destructive energy of waters confined to the channel. But the loss of flood storage areas—both wetlands and floodplains can increase flood heights.    And when people live where high water occurs, then natural events can lead to disaster. 

Every year flooding results in the loss of property and human life.  This spring will be no exception.  Already the Red River is predicted to reach a level of 38 feet, three feet below record levels, this Saturday.    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/03/15/flood-forecast-crest-earlier-than-expected/

Now and throughout the spring citizens will be watching the weather and listening for forecasts about spring floods.  Here in Maine ice jams are an annual challenge and earlier this year cities along the Kennebec River experienced flooding from such an ice jam.   A few weeks later heavy rainfall resulted in local flooding in our town on a scale not seen locally in recent years.  And even though the snow has melted near the coast, a heavy snowpack in the mountains will lead to more flooding along the river that runs a quarter mile below our house if there is a sudden sustained warm spell.

This is also national flood safety awareness week http://www.floods.org/ace-files/documentlibrary/FEMA/NFIP_FloodWeek_3_15_2010.pdf.

Predictive tools have improved over the years.  On the National Weather Service website it is easy to see where hazardous conditions have been identified. http://www.nws.noaa.gov/  In addition to the regular weather forecasts and warnings, the national weather service is experimenting with a new feature called NWS Chat https://nwschat.weather.gov/.  This service allows forecasters and those involved in responding to weather events to get information about possible adverse weather conditions prior to the formal weather alerts.

Spring floods are a natural event and they will continue to occur and even increase in intensity according to some long range forecasts that incorporate information about changing climate.  In the end, many experts agree, the best strategy to keep people safe is to build or relocate houses and the other infrastructure associated with communities out of harm’s way.

To help local town managers and others understand the long term consequences of building in the floodplain, the Association of State Floodplain Managers has created a game.  It allows an individual to make decisions about building a community near a river.  The Floodplain manager game adopts the player’s planning decisions and then allows random weather and flood events to occur.  Planning decisions and floods affect the town’s economy.  The town prospers or declines in response to the location of the growing town and the economic consequences of floods.  To play the game visit http://playgen.com/floodmanager/

More information on from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about protecting communities from floods visit their Floodsmart website http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/

And never, never drive across flowing water.  It doesn’t take ‘feet’ of water to sweep a car downstream.  It only takes inches.

Jeanne Christie
Executive Director

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