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That's Why It's Called a Floodplain! by National Committee for the New River
Latest Update: April 15, 2010
Along the New River this winter, many landowners saw and felt the results of major winter storms and extended periods of sub-freezing temperatures. In many areas, the river froze in layers of thick ice. Simultaneous events of moderating temperatures and heavy rain caused the river to rise and the ice to crack, forming huge ice floes. The rising waters carried the ice floes up onto the floodplain, the natural area for high-water levels to gravitate. You may remember seeing pictures of this phenomenon on Ray's Weather's Photo of the Day this winter.
Contrary to popular belief, flooding is a very good thing for the river to do. This winter the floodplains were doing the important work of allowing the water from snow melt, ice melt, and rain to flow up and out of the river banks, dispersing the energy of that tremendous amount of water entering the watershed. Floodplains hold large quantities of water, which slows the flow of water. They allow the sediment carried by the water to settle out on land where it is needed, instead of in the river. Native plants in the floodplain filter pollutants and chemicals from the water, improving water quality for both humans and wildlife. The water held on floodplains also allows the groundwater to recharge, keeping the water in the area to supply streams and wells.
In some cases, flood waters and ice damaged the vegetation along the river but the river banks themselves remain mostly unchanged. This is NOT the time to take advantage of cleared banks and start a lawn to the river. The shrubs, grasses, and trees on the river bank are the important riparian buffer that prevents erosion, absorbs pollutants in stormwater runoff, shades the river to keep it cool for fish, and provides food for wildlife, among other things.
Landowners should know that while the vegetation itself was sheared off or flattened, the root systems in most cases remain intact. Inaction is the best action as the root mass in the banks will send up new growth this spring for both grasses and wildflowers and the native shrubs.
Mother Nature has used this winter weather to remind us of the importance of floodplains and riparian buffers. All of the snow and ice has replenished the water tables and the flooding will provide nutrients and water for spring growth and rebirth. Just sit back and enjoy the show!