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The role of floodplain restoration in mitigating flood risk, Lower Missouri River, USA

January 1, 2015

Recent extreme floods on the Lower Missouri River have reinvigorated public policy debate about the potential role of floodplain restoration in decreasing costs of floods and possibly increasing other ecosystem service benefits. The first step to addressing the benefits of floodplain restoration is to understand the interactions of flow, floodplain morphology, and land cover that together determine the biophysical capacity of the floodplain. In this article we address interactions between ecological restoration of floodplains and flood-risk reduction at 3 scales. At the scale of the Lower Missouri River corridor (1300 km) floodplain elevation datasets and flow models provide first-order calculations of the potential for Missouri River floodplains to store floods of varying magnitude and duration. At this same scale assessment of floodplain sand deposition from the 2011 Missouri River flood indicates the magnitude of flood damage that could potentially be limited by floodplain restoration. At the segment scale (85 km), 1-dimensional hydraulic modeling predicts substantial stage reductions with increasing area of floodplain restoration; mean stage reductions range from 0.12 to 0.66 m. This analysis also indicates that channel widening may contribute substantially to stage reductions as part of a comprehensive strategy to restore floodplain and channel habitats. Unsteady 1-dimensional flow modeling of restoration scenarios at this scale indicates that attenuation of peak discharges of an observed hydrograph from May 2007, of similar magnitude to a 10 % annual exceedance probability flood, would be minimal, ranging from 0.04 % (with 16 % floodplain restoration) to 0.13 % (with 100 % restoration). At the reach scale (15–20 km) 2-dimensional hydraulic models of alternative levee setbacks and floodplain roughness indicate complex processes and patterns of flooding including substantial variation in stage reductions across floodplains depending on topographic complexity and hydraulic roughness. Detailed flow patterns captured in the 2-dimensional model indicate that most floodplain storage occurs on the rising limb of the flood as water flows into floodplain bottoms from downstream; at a later time during the rising limb this pattern is reversed and the entire bottom conveys discharge down the valley. These results indicate that flood-risk reduction by attenuation is likely to be small on a large river like the Missouri and design strategies to optimize attenuation and ecological restoration should focus on frequent floods (20–50 % annual exceedance probability). Local stage reductions are a more certain benefit of floodplain restoration but local effects are highly dependent on magnitude of flood discharge and how floodplain vegetation communities contribute to hydraulic roughness. The most certain flood risk reduction benefit of floodplain restoration is avoidance of flood damages to crops and infrastructure.

Publication Year 2015
Title The role of floodplain restoration in mitigating flood risk, Lower Missouri River, USA
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-2380-9_9
Authors Robert B. Jacobson, Garth A. Lindner, Chance Bitner
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70150452
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center