Floodplain lands and adjacent waters combine to form a complex, dynamic physical and biological system found nowhere else. When portions of floodplains are preserved in (or restored to) their natural state, they provide many benefits to both human and natural systems.
These benefits range from providing aesthetic pleasure to reducing the number and severity of floods, helping handle stormwater runoff and minimizing non-point water pollution. For example, by allowing floodwater to slow down, sediments settle out, thus maintaining water quality. The natural vegetation filters out impurities and uses excess nutrients.
Such natural processes cost far less money than it would take to build facilities to correct flood, stormwater, water quality and other community problems.
Natural resources of floodplains fall into three categories:
The following describe each category's natural and beneficial functions.
Over the centuries, floodplains develop their own ways to handle flooding and erosion with natural features that provide floodwater storage and conveyance, reduce flood velocities and flood peaks, and curb sedimentation,
Natural controls on flooding and erosion help to maintain water quality by filtering nutrients and impurities from runoff, processing organic wastes and moderating temperature fluctuations.
These natural controls also contribute to recharging groundwater by promoting infiltration and refreshing aquifers, and by reducing the frequency and duration of low surface flows.
Floodplains enhance biological productivity by supporting a high rate of plant growth. This helps to maintain biodiversity and the integrity of ecosystems.
Floodplains provide excellent habitats for fish and wildlife by serving as breeding and feeding grounds. They also create and enhance waterfowl habitats, and help to protect habitats for rare and endangered species.
People benefit from floodplains through the food they provide, the recreational opportunities they afford and the scientific knowledge gained in studying them.
Wild and cultivated products are harvested in floodplains, which are enhanced agricultural land made rich by sediment deposits. They provide open space, which may be used to restore and enhance forest lands, or for recreational opportunities or simple enjoyment of their aesthetic beauty.
Floodplains provide areas for scientific study and outdoor education. They contain cultural resources such as historic or archaeological sites, and thus provide opportunities for environmental and other kinds of studies.
Floodplains can increase a community's overall quality of life, a role that often has been undervalued. By transforming floodplains from problem areas into value-added assets, the community can improve its quality of life. Chicago's lakefront, Peoria's riverfront, Naperville's Riverwalk, and Lockport's historic canal district are well-known examples.
Parks, bike paths, open spaces, wildlife conservation areas and aesthetic features are important to citizens. Assets like these make the community more appealing to potential employers, investors, residents, property owners and tourists.