Natural and Beneficial Functions of Floodplains

Did your last meal include Kansas grown agricultural products? Have you ever been fishing, hiking, or bird watching? Do you like clear clean drinking water? Answering yes to any of these questions means that you have probably benefited from a floodplain.  When Floodplain Managers refer to a floodplain they usually mean the special flood hazard areas shown on a flood map. Floodplains have existed much longer than flood maps. The term floodplain more properly refers to the flat low lying area of land next to a stream, river or coastal area. That flat low lying area was created, over time, by periodic flooding. Floodplains provide many beneficial functions.

Floodplain Managers know that floodplains store and convey floodwaters. Floodplain areas that are kept as open space will soak up floodwaters and help to reduce flooding in developed areas. Floodplains provide a variety of many other important functions. Floodplains filter out sediment from entering streams and control stream bank erosion. During floods sediment is deposited onto floodplains. This creates good soil for agricultural uses, forestry, and a diversity of habitat in floodplain areas. The rich soil and diverse habitat of the floodplain supports wildlife.

Floodplains are also important for the supply and quality of water. Floodplains recharge groundwater and regulate flows. The floodplain helps maintain water quality through filtration of impurities and processing of organic waste. The list of benefits provided by floodplains could go on to include many other historical, economic, scientific and recreational uses. In spite of the many benefits of floodplains some people only see floodplains as wasted space waiting to be developed. A challenge Floodplain Managers face is to get people to look beyond the value of a few building lots and to see the overall value of the floodplain. It is certainly possible to calculate a dollar value for crops or timber that comes from a floodplain. It is much more difficult to accurately assign a dollar value to the other benefits a floodplain provides. Floodplains are much more valuable than many people realize.

To learn more about the beneficial uses of floodplains visit these websites:

National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program

Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kansas

FEMA Publication on Natural and Beneficial Functions of Floodplains

EPA Healthy Watersheds