Floodplain Restoration: Back to Nature

This past week, Tropical Storm Henri crashed into Rhode Island and socked the Northeast. A record-breaking storm that deposited 17 inches of rain in one day, led to devastating floods and another strong storm took 22 lives in Tennessee. In July and closer to home, people had to be rescued when flooding inundated (and not for the first time) the Big Creek Parkway.

Over the centuries, people like those in the Nile River Valley, celebrated the annual flooding of the Nile River because the nutrient-rich soil that was deposited benefited agriculture. Nowadays, flooding in most places is not cause for celebration, but rather intense worry about closed roads, and businesses, eroding land, loss of property, basement flooding, and incised stream channels.

As rainfall averages and intensity increases, the older infrastructure becomes overwhelmed with fast moving water that is exacerbated by our urban impervious surfaces. In addition, the post construction water quantity and water quality basins are aimed at reducing stormwater runoff, but the calculations used to determine their sizes fails to correspond with today’s wet weather realities. Plus, modern engineering does solve a myriad of problems, but there are also costs. Building stormwater storage facilities that take plan for increased rainfall will potentially be hamstrung by cost and space constraints. So now is the time to encourage and support the use of more “green infrastructure” projects.

Daylighting creeks has excellent potential. Floodplain restoration and/or reconnecting to floodplains is becoming a more acceptable solution. Floodplains are valuable, and the wetlands and waterways that make them up, provide a host of natural functions that may mitigate erosion, reduce flooding, revitalize local habitats, and reduce local water pollution. The prospects of wide-scale projects of this type may be limited in highly urban areas, but the good news is that projects are being done in Cuyahoga County. Some examples of floodplain restoration projects include:

  • When flooding continued to inundate a southwest neighborhood in Cuyahoga County, the city teamed up with the Federal government purchase property to allow the area to revert to a wetland.
  • During the housing crisis in 2010 when many Cleveland homes went into foreclosure, the city razed houses on a branch of Big Creek and reconnected the floodplain, creating more stormwater storage.
  • Pepper Pike reconnected the floodplain to Pepper Creek in two areas to help storm stormwater that continued to erode a hillside, threaten a home, and cut the channel. A home was purchased and removed, the floodplain widened, and the natural stream alignment was restored.
  • Cuyahoga SWCD implemented two stream restoration projects, one near the mouth of Euclid Creek and one on the East Branch of the Rocky River that reconnected floodplains and provided extra stormwater storage.

The attached photos demonstrate how restoring natural stream function will help mitigate the damages from increased rainfalls. Natural restoration is a viable solution to the increased flooding problem and one that may cost less in the long run. As Cleveland’s population continues to dip, there may be additional opportunities to restore floodplains to reduce flooding, provide flood protection, increase habitat, and create new green spaces!

No one can blame communities for wanting new development, however a holistic approach to development needs to factor in long range costs to the environment. The operative word in Green Infrastructure is “green.” It is time to pay it forward!

Blog Authur: Janine Rybka, Director

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