In the aftermath of a flood sometimes it’s hard to identify exactly why the damage occurred in the first place and people can have emotional reactions that may not be in the best interest of the stream system and may even cause additional damage. Even worse, these reactionary ‘projects’ can have adverse affects on upstream and downstream neighbors.
For example, a number of emergency recovery projects were developed in response to the region’s extensive 2013 flooding. Restoring damaged infrastructure was the first priority for these reconstruction efforts. Emergency funding for these projects often required a very quick construction schedule, limiting the opportunities to take a comprehensive approach to restoring the streams and rivers. In response, a number of projects armored and channelized the river to reconstruct damaged infrastructure. While this was done to protect infrastructure, it degrades the health of the stream. It was later found that the channelization done as part of many of these reconstruction efforts further damaged or degraded the stream function and aquatic habitat. This was also done by many private landowners in an effort to ‘stabilize’ their property. Unfortunately, many of these projects were not the best long-term decisions for the properties or the stream corridors.
To prevent this from happening in the future, as well as to help you avoid making reactionary decisions after a flood, it is important to take a step back and try to assess your situation with a long-term view. This includes evaluating both the damages of a flood and the restoration opportunities you may have. Furthermore, as many of you have found in the years since the 2013 flood, sometimes doing nothing can be the best option for an area. Since the 2013 flood, many of the areas that were damaged are starting to repair themselves naturally, without human intervention.
The following is a list of post-flood questions to ask yourself in the months immediately following the event, along with subsequent recommendations to consider before reconstructing your property after a flood:
1. Did the flood cause significant bank erosion?
If the eroding banks do not threaten buildings or infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), avoid armoring the banks with riprap or stone. Instead, consider stabilizing the banks with vegetation or re-grading. You do not want to ‘box’ the stream into a tight channel.
2. Did the floods leave significant amounts of sediment on your property?
Consider using sediment deposits for plantings. Be careful not to move the sediment into the stream if you are doing work. Talk to an outside consultant (watershed coordinator, landscape architect, engineer, river constructor) before moving or removing sediment.
3. Did the floods leave woody material in and along the stream corridor?
Leave woody material in place if it is outside of the main flow of the stream. If you are not sure if you should remove it, contact your local watershed coalition for assistance evaluating it. If you think the woody material poses an immediate threat to property or persons, contact your local Office of Emergency Management. When possible, stockpile large woody material so it can be re-used for bank stabilization projects.
4. Did the stream move to a new location as a result of the floods?
If the new stream location does not threaten buildings or infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), leave the stream in its new place. Streams naturally move throughout their floodplains over time.
As a final rule, always consider upstream and downstream affects of your actions. If you are unsure if your actions will impact your neighbors, ask for outside help. Contact your local watershed coalition, city or county agencies, qualified engineers/river designers or environmental consultants.