Member Highlight: Wetland Enhancement in Midwest Could Help Reduce Catastrophic Future Floods

2016-06-28T19:24:23+00:00 March 18, 2016|
Riverine wetlands such as these in northwest Iowa used to be commonplace across much of the Midwest, but millions of acres of them have disappeared since European settlement. (Credit: Photo courtesy of the USDA Natural Resources conservation Service)

(Click to enlarge) Riverine wetlands such as these in northwest Iowa used to be commonplace across much of the Midwest, but millions of acres of them have disappeared since European settlement. (Credit: Photo courtesy of the USDA Natural Resources conservation Service)

According to a new study from Oregon State University, restoration of wetlands in the Midwest has the potential to significantly reduce peak river flows during floods — not only now, but also in the future if heavy rains continue to increase in intensity.

(From ScienceDaily) — Wetland restoration could also provide a small step toward a hydrologic regime in this region that more closely resembles its historic nature, before roads and cities were constructed, forests were lost, and millions of acres tile-drained to increase agricultural production.

An evaluation of potential wetlands in one watershed in central Indiana found that if just 1.5 percent of the land were used for wetlands, the peak flow of the overall watershed could be reduced by up to 17.5 percent. Also of importance, researchers said, is that expansion of wetlands appears to provide significant benefits across a wide range of possible climate scenarios.

The study was published in Ecological Engineering, in work supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Flood management in the Midwest is now almost entirely concentrated on use of dams and levees,” said Meghna Babbar-Sebens, an assistant professor of civil engineering in the College of Engineering, and the Eric H.I. and Janice Hoffman Faculty Scholar at OSU.

“Wetland construction or restoration could provide a natural and ecological option to help with flood concerns, and serve as an additional tool for flood management. Greater investments in this approach, or similar approaches that increase storage of water in the upper landscape of a watershed, should be seriously considered.”

The new research considered not just the problem now — which is serious — but what the future may bring.

The study used climate models supported by the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program, along with a hydrology model to examine the impact of wetlands during the climate scenarios for a mid-century period from 2041 to 2070. It suggests this central Indiana region could see continued increases in extreme events, such as more extremely hot days during summer and more heavy rain in the wettest 5-day periods.

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160316140350.htm