Restoring Floodplains and Fixing Past Mistakes

FloodsFloodplains throughout the United States have been leveed, diked, and built upon. Increasingly severe storms and budget-busting flood damage suggest that it’s time to reconsider the value of floodplains and begin restoring their natural ability to protect communities from flooding and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

Key strategies to restore floodplains include:


Voluntary Buyouts of Frequently Flooded Properties

Thousands of properties have been flooded multiple times and rebuilt at taxpayer expense. To prevent additional damage and expense, and to improve the ability of floodplains to accommodate floodwaters, many of these properties should be removed.

Buyouts involve the voluntary sale, at fair market value, of flood-prone structures. They provide a permanent solution to the risks and damages of repetitive flooding.

Buyouts significantly reduce public costs and they get people out of harm’s way. Buyouts also provide the added benefits of improved flood storage and conveyance and open space for wildlife refuges and fisheries habitat.

For more information on buyouts, visit:

Remove or Setback Levees

Although levees are frequently built for flood protection, many are located close to the river and are not able to hold increasingly larger floods. They often create a false sense of safety for those behind them and they cut off access to important floodplain habitat.

Often levees only reduce flood damages for ordinary events; in extreme events these structures commonly fail, causing more catastrophic destruction than if the structure had not been there at all.

In many places, moving levees further from the river creates multiple benefits. It reconnects the floodplain to the natural river system, increases the river’s ability to absorb more stormwater, reduces risk of flooding and flood damage, and restores valuable riparian habitat for fish and wildlife.

Learn more about NWF's work to prevent the New Madrid Floodway project from endangering wildlife and wetlands habitat in Missouri>> 

Restore Floodplain Functions

Development along river corridors has significantly altered floodplain function and led to extensive losses of wetlands and fish and wildlife habitat. Floodplain restoration can effectively turn damaged areas into productive habitat. Habitat restoration can provide multiple benefits including:

  • Enhanced fish habitat.
  • Increased flood protection.
  • Improved watershed health.
  • Enhanced recreational access and opportunities.

Restoration must incorporate the best available science and projected impacts of climate change to avoid further flood risk to people and property. A variety of state and local conservation plans, including salmon restoration plans, the State Wildlife Action Plan, and others can help guide restoration efforts for priority habitat areas.


Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure is a set of tools and approaches that integrates conservation goals with development, growth, and infrastructure planning. It uses natural processes to absorb stormwater rather than funneling stormwater directly to streams.

Green Infrastructure can help reduce or delay stormwater runoff volumes, enhance groundwater recharge, and reduce stormwater pollution. It can also help increase carbon sequestration, reduce energy demands and increase wildlife habitat.

Tools and approaches associated with Green Infrastructure include:

Seattle Green Street

Image of street-side swale in Seattle

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