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Floodplains: Mother Nature's Defense

October 21, 2019
When we think of flooding, we typically imagine large, flash-floods that engulf communities and cause massive destruction. And why wouldn’t we? Infrequent, large floodwaters can quickly wreak havoc on homes, crops, wildlife habitats, and human lives.

However, periodic, small flooding can actually be beneficial to the environment and people. In a healthy river system, floodplains – the relatively flat lands on either side of a river’s banks – naturally protect people and wildlife from floods. And by allowing water to reach more areas above and below the earth’s surface - frequent floods naturally filter pollutants from rivers, improve fertile areas for farming, and create seasonal wetlands that provide critical habitat for fish and birds.

Flooding becomes problematic when a river’s most important defense mechanism, the floodplain, becomes disconnected from the river. Such was the case on the Betsie River. In 1989, the Thompsonville Dam failed and washed out, causing tons of sediment to disperse downstream. Since then, the river has steadily eroded deeper into its channel, degrading the river’s instream habitat.

As a caretaker of this important resource, Conservation Resource Alliance began construction on a project that would reconnect the river to its floodplain, reduce erosion, and improve the overall habitat of the Betsie. Construction crews re-sloped and reduced the height of the streambanks, constructed bankfull benches, and nurtured instream habitat through introducing woody debris at the river’s edge.

In October, volunteers from Consumers Energy participated in CRA’s Wild Roots program and planted 400 native trees and wildflowers at the site. The seedlings were sourced from the Benzie and Grand Traverse Conservation Districts and will not only help to further stabilize the streambanks - but will improve habitat throughout the riparian corridor.

Through floodplain restoration activities, we can help communities mitigate the negative impacts of heavy flooding and take advantage of the benefits of small, regular floods - all by letting nature do what it does best. If you would like to hear more about projects like this, join our mailing list or support stream restoration projects in northern Michigan by making a gift today at www.rivercare.org/support. For questions or comments, contact Biologist, Kim Balke, kim@rivercare.org or (231) 946-6817.

The Betsie Floodplain Restoration Project was made possible with support from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Sustain Our Great Lakes Program, and funding for Wild Roots was provided by Consumers Energy Foundation, USFS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, USDA Forest Service, and DTE Energy Foundation.
 

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